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OLD and NEW 




Third Edition. 


Second Edition. 


Second Edition. 



In conjunction with Walter Crane. 
















This is not so much a sequel to " Alphabets 
Old and New " as that is preliminary to this. 
The earlier volume dealt with the alphabet only, 
the forms of letters : the consideration is here 
their use in ornament, the way they have been 
and are to be employed in decoration. 

The illustrations (of which a descriptive list is 
given) are chosen strictly with a view to illustrate, 
which will account for the introduction of my own 
designs : it was not possible always to find the 
fitting instance, and an obvious way out of the 
dilemma was to make a drawing. 

Incidentally, however, the examples of old work 
here brought together show how universal was 
the use of Lettering in Ornament, how varied, 
how ingenious, and at times how beautiful. 
Haply they may serve as incentives to fresh 
invention ; in any case they are valuable object- 
lessons in decorative treatment. 

My point of view, it is hardly necessary to say, 
is that of the workman — who, if he is a good 
workman, is something of an artist too ; ari4 


what I have to say is addressed to those engaged 
in ornamental design or seriously studying it. 

The historic side of the subject is dwelt upon 
because of its bearing upon the practical. 
The work of other days throws full on what is 
possible to-day a light, failing which, the 
best of us grope awkwardly in the dusk of 
perhaps very limited experience. 


13, Mecklenburgh Square, 
London, W.C. 

September 1st, 1902. 


I am indebted in many quarters: to Mr. R. Aiming 
Bell, Mr. Walter Crane, Mr. Raffles Davidson, 
Mr. Harry Soane and Miss B. A. Waldram, for 
the use of their designs or drawings ; to Herren 
Gerlach and Sc/ienk, the Imprimeries Reunies, 
EL err von Larisch, Mr. Harry Soane and Messrs. 
H. Virtue & Co., Ltd., for allowing reproductions 
from their publications ; to Miss Gimingham, for the 
loan of photographs ; to the Rector of Stonyhurst 
College, for sanctioning the illustration of Queen 
Mary's prayer-book ; to the authorities of the British 
and Victoria & Albert Museums, and especially to 
Mr. A. B. Skinner and Mr. G. F. Hill, for valuable 
assistance in the production of this book. 











X. CYPHERS .... 











JI 4 


J 93 


i. frame of A purse or bag, with the lilies of France and 
inscription incised. Found in England. 15th century. 
(B. M.) 



4. Icelandic inscription, carved in wood. 

5. Arabic inscription, from a stone slab in the Mosque at 


6. leaf of a diptych, carved in ivory, with subjects relating 

to the Nativity, etc. Rhenish. 10th century. (B. M.) 

7. carved drawer fronts, from a Gothic cabinet. The letter 

a in the word fata deliberately bisected by the framing. 
French. (Cluny Museum.) 

8. tracery window, from the refectory of the Hospital of 

S. Cross, with quarries bearing the motto of Cardinal 
Beaufort, whose arms occupy the centre of the light. 
English Perpendicular Gothic. About the middle of the 
15th century. (Winston.) 

9. bronze medal of the Italian Renaissance. (V. & A. M.) 

10. decorative panel — Perseus and the Graeae — in gesso upon 

oak, the inscription in raised gilt letters — by Sir E. Burne- 

11. part of an embroidered stole. The inscription, worked into 

the gold background, so far lost in it as merely to break 
the basket-stitch diaper. Roumanian, 


12. woodcut initials, from a book printed at Bale in the 

1 6th century. 

13. metal cover of a crystal cup, in the Uffizi at Florence, 

pierced and enamelled with the cypher of Henri Deux. 
French. 16th century. (H. Havard's " Dictionnaire de 
l'Ameublement." Quantin.) 

14. glazed encaustic tile, with part of a Latin inscription 

from the Book of Job, xix. 21. Found in Sussex. Dated 
1456. (B. M.) 

15. from a jewellery design, by H. Holbein. (Print-roorn, 

B. M.) 

16. marks of the printers, Jaques Huguetan and Mathew 

Huz, Lyons. 1494, 1493. 


18. poster, by R. Anning Bell. 

19. parchment grant to a Hospital in Burgos, by Alfonso the 

Wise, surrounded by inscription, signo del rey don 
alfonso, and confirmation of Juan Garcia, in concentric 
circles. Spain, 1254. (B. M.) 

20. inscription by Joseph Plenick, of Vienna. (Beispiele 

Runstlerischer Schrift. Herr von Larisch.) 

21. inscription by Otto Hupp, of Munich. (Beispiele Runst- 

lerischer Schrift. Herr von Larisch.) 

22. diagram, to show letter-spacing. 

23. diagram, to show construction of Roman letters. 

24. title-page to W. Eden Nesfield's " Specimens of Mediaeval 

Architecture." 1862. 

25. bronze plate, from the grave of Veit Stoss, the 

sculptor. Nuremberg. German, 1591. ("Die Bronce- 
Epitaphien der Friedhofe zu Nurnberg." Gerlach &> 
Schenk, Vienna.) 


26. back of a pinewood stall, from the Church of S. Valen- 

tine, Kiedrich. Carved by Erhart Falkener, of Abensperk. 
Flat lettering grounded out, the words separated by inter- 
mediate ornament. German, 1510. (" Monumental- Schrif- 
ten vergangener Jahrhunderte. " Gerlach &> Schenk, 

27. inscribed panel under the pulpit in the Cathedral at Siena. 

Marble, the letters in relief. Italian. 1543. 

28. inscription panel, from the tomb of Mary of Burgundy, in 

the Church of Notre Dame at Bruges. 1495 — 1502. 

29. inscription on the tomb of Benozzo Federighi, in the Church 

of S. Trinita. Florence, by Luca della Robbia, the letters 
incised in marble. 1450. 

30. inscribed panel, from the shrine of S. Simeon, at Zara 

in Dalmatia. Silver, embossed and gilt. The work of 
Francesco di Antonio, of Sesto. 1380. 

31. cast-iron grave slab, from the Church of S. Jacobi, 

Lubeck. 1599. (" Monumental-Schriften vergangener 
Jahrhunderte.'* Gerlach & Schenk, Vienna.) 

32. latin inscription, in ribbon-like Gothic character, from a 

mural brass at S. Peter's Church, Cologne. 1506. (From 
a rubbing by W. H. James Weale in the Library at 
V. & A. M.) 

33. diagram to show the fitting together of letters so as to avoid 

as much as possible open spaces of ground between. 

34. slab outside the Church of S. Emmeran, Regensburg, cut 

in sandstone. (" Monumental-Schriften vergangener Jahr- 
hunderte." Gerlach <~ Schenk, Vienna.) 

35. bronze grave plate. (" Die Bronce-Epitaphien der Fried- 

hofe zu Nurnberg." Gerlach d>> Schenk, Vienna.) 

36. carved pew-end. English. 16th century. From a sketch 

by Raffles Davison. 

37. part of a belt— Iron inlaid with silver. Byzantine. (B. M.) 


38. leaf of A diptych, carved in ivory. 10th century. (B. M.) 

39. part of a wooden door at the Cathedral of Le Puy. Flat 

carving grounded out. Inscribed on the upright post is 
the name of the artist. (Compare with 81.) French. 
12th century. 

40. cover of the gospels, with Slavonic inscriptions, repousse, 

silver gilt. 1519. 

41. enlargement of an engraving on copper, by Hans Sebald 

Beham. German. 1542. (B. M.) 

42. grave stone, with incised inscription, from the Island of 

Gotland. 1316. 

43. glazed earthenware loving cup, decorated in clay of 

different colours. Staffordshire. 17th century. (B. M.) 

44. part of a carved wooden door, with Moresque ornament 

and inscription in Gothic character by way of border. 
Spanish. 15th century. (Musee des Arts Decoratifs, 
Paris. ) 

45. part of an iron door, diapered with the arms of Leon and 

Castille. Inscription, by way of border, beaten up. In the 
Cathedral at Toledo. 


A. Reverse, with crab and bow in case, and the inscrip- 

tion, KHION MOSXinN. Cos, island off Asia Minor. 
3rd century b.c. 

B. Obverse, with a Bee (symbol of Artemis) and the letters, 

E * = Ephesus. 4th century B.C. 

C. Reverse, with vine and the inscription, Em MHTPO- 

AOTO. Maronea, a city of Thrace. 5th century b. c. 
(All in the B. M.) 


D. Reverse, with the figure of Zeus and the word 

AAEHANAPOT ; coin of the types of Alexander the 
Great, probably issued after his death, b.c 316 — 



E. Reverse, with figure of Athene and inscription, BA2I- 

AEH2 ANTirONOT. Antigonus, King of Macedon. 

B.C. 277—239. 

F. Reverse, with figure of Zeus, and the inscription 

reign of Agathocles the Just." Bactria. 2nd century 


G. Reverse, with figure of Zeus, and the inscription 

AIKAIOT Eni*ANOY2 <HAEAAHN02. Parthia. B.C. 

H. Reverse, owl in a wreath of olive, with inscription 
IIPIAN2I . nrpriA2 . KA. Priansus, a city of Crete. 
2nd century B.C. 


- bronze medals. Italian. 16th century. 

50. bronze medal, with two inscriptions, the one raised, the 

other sunk. Italian. 16th century. 

51. inscribed label, from a Gothic stained-glass window. The 

letters picked, with a pointed stick, out of solid paint. 
English. 14th century. 

52. panel, from the choir of Albi Cathedral. The name of the 

prophet (or as much of it as the artist thought necessary 
to identification) incised upon the background, the quota- 
tion on a label. 

53. part of a reading desk, with the arms of France and Savoy, 

letters l, and scrolls inscribed sperandum ac feren- 
dum ; carved in ivory and painted. French. 16th century. 
(In the possession of Mr. Salting.) 

54. gothic tapestry, with figures and inscribed scrolls. French. 

15th century. (Cluny Museum.) 

55. ) plaques of faience. Inscribed labels used to occupy the 
56.I background. Gubbio. 1 6th century. 

57. enlarged bookplate. Inscription not following the con- 
volutions of the label. Engraved on copper by Hans 
Sebald Beham. German. 1543. (B. M.) 


58. engraving on copper. The alphabet inscribed on a scroll. 

H. S. Beham. (B. M.) 

59. part of a square carpet. The ornament consists almost 

entirely of inscribed scrolls. German. (V. & A. M.) 

60. cypher and inscribed labels, designed for the " Art 

Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition of 1851," 
by W. Harry Rogers. (H. Virtue & Co.) 

61. The words secundum lucam, from a manuscript of the 

Gospels. German. 15th century. 

62. Two names, charles and maud, intermingled with symbolic 

and decorative intent. (L. F. D.) 

63. Gothic pew-end, with letter g used decoratively. From a 

Church in Somersetshire. 14th century. 

64. iron bolt-plates in the form of a letter F. French. Period 

of Fran?ois Ier. 

65. border of a page from "The Book of Wedding Days." 

Branches of the brier rose, appropriate to the month, 
spell june. Designed by Walter Crane. 

66. engraved panel, in which florid Gothic foliage resolves 

itself, upon examination, into the at first unsuspected word 
Israel, and (sideways) the letter m. Subsidiary labels 
bear mottoes "Da gloriam Deo,'" etc. From a print (in 
which, however, the design is reversed), engraved by 
Israel van Meckenen. German. 15th century. (B. M.) 

67. The letters r . l . l . s . v, coloured, with so little regard to shape 

as further to disguise already florid forms. Embroidered, 
border-wise, on linen. German Gothic. (V. & A. M.) 

68. golden votive crown, found near Toledo. Suspended from 

it in the form of a fringe are the letters reccessvinthus, 
in cloisonned mosaic of coloured stones. Visigothic 
workmanship of the 7th century. (Cluny Museum.) 

69. merchant's mark, in relief upon a bronze memorial tablet 

at Nuremberg. 1616. 


70. merchant's mark, c . e . g., from a seal or stamp. (Barclay's 

" Monograms.") 

71. mangling apparatus, with decorative inscriptions. Carved 

in wood. Icelandic. 

72. ornamental lettering, painted on a picture frame by 

Victor Vasnetzoff. Russian. (" The Studio.") 

73. Slavonic inscription of the 16th century. 

74. back of mirror frame, carved in low relief and enriched 

with gold and colour. Inscription, o thou satisfier 
of wants, Persian. 17th or 18th century. (India 

75. The word allah, in letters designed to form an ornamental 

device. (L. F. D.) 

76. The word prophet, in cursive ornamental letters. (L. F. D.) 

77. The word allah, in fret-like letters, after the manner of a 

Chinese seal. Compare also with Curie lettering. (L. F. D.) 

78. The word prophet, in strap-like letters elaborately inter- 

laced. (L. F. D.) 

79. stamp of domitian, with raised letters AOMITIANOY. Iron. 

Byzantine. (B. M.) 

80. bronze pendant, enamelled in black and white. Spanish. 

17th century. 

81. details from the doors at Le Puy (comp. 39), showing the 

point to which the conjoining of letters was carried in the 
12th century. 

82. part of an inscription, with conjoint Gothic lettering, 

from a mural brass at Termonde. Flemish. 1575. (From 
a rubbing by W. H. James Weale, in the Library at 

V. & A. M.) 

83. conjoint letters of various periods. 

84. diagram. 

l.o. , b 


85. conjoint lettering, forming the central device, in gold 

with black (niello) outline, upon some silver dishes found 
at Rome. 4th or 5th century of our era. (B. M.) 

86. monogram, e. M.S., falling short of being a cypher only 

because of its continuous line (comp. 90, 91, 92, 93). 

87. sundry monograms — The component letters are written at 

the side of each. (L. F. D.) 

88. solidus (58 grain weight), with monogram inlaid in white 

metal (silver or lead). Roman. (B. M.) 


90. continuous monogram, f. l. Reversible, i.e., reads the 

same upside down (comp. 86, 92, 93), by J. Bonella. 

91. ) continuous monograms, s . p . l. and g . p . l. (comp. 86, 90, 

92. j 93), by W. H. Rogers. (Barclay.) 

93. continuous monogram, r . e . d. (comp. 86, 90, 91, 92). 

(L. F. D.) 

94. ) monograms from jewellery designs by Holbein. (Print- 

95. ) room, B. M.) 

96. diagram, indicating the variety of letter-shapes available 

for the monogram mist. 


98. A 

99. t MONOGRAMS — T. H. E. (L. F. D.) 

100. j 

101. stencilled monogram, with frame. (L. F. D.) 

102. stencilled monogram, with symbolic background. (L. F. D.) 

103. stencilled monogram, w . t. (L. F. D.) 

104. monogram from a coin of queen Elizabeth. 


105. reversed cypher panel of a carved walnut coffer. French. 

1650. (V. & A. M.) 

106. monograms and cyphers, painted upon quarries of old glass. 

English. (V. & A. M.) 

107.) iron key bows, with reversed cyphers. 17th or 18th 

108. [ century. (B. M.) 

109. reversed cypher, from a wrought-iron fanlight. French. 

1 8th century. 

no. painted tiles, withreversed cypher, c 1. French. Period 
of Henri Deux. 

in. bookbinding, tooled with the reversed cypher of Julie 
d'Angennes, Duchesse de Montausier. One of severa of 
the same design by Le Gascon. French. 1651. (" Les 
Femmes Bibliophiles." Quentin-Beanchart.) 


113. T . G., ) 

114. p . g., j by J' Fowler - (Barclay.) 

115. g r s., by F. Montague. (Soane.) 

116. b.e., by W. H. Rogers. (Barclay.) 

117. w s., by F. Montague. (Soane.) 

118. gothic cyphers, a.m., i.h.s., (from old embroidery) 

A.n. (L. F. D.) 

119. foliated cypher, i . h . c. (Adapted from H. Rogers.) 

120. cypher, a. m. Cutwork. (L. F. D.) 

121. cyphers, t. h. e. (L. F. D.) 

122. cypher and masonic device. (Harry Soane.) 

123. manuscript. Italian. 1439. 

124. stamp for printing on linen. — Metal tape driven into a 

block of deal, roughly sawn across the grain. 


125. initials. Woodcut. German. 

126. initial, engraved on copper. 

127. portion of a mural brass at Hal in Belgium. From a 

rubbing by W. H. J. Weale. (V. & A. M.) 

128. portion of a flemish mural tablet in the Church of 

S. James Tournay. 1579. From a rubbing by W. H. J. 
Weale. (V. & A. M.) 

129. bronze memorial tablet. Nuremberg. 1544. (" Die 

Bronce-Epitaphien der Friedhofe zu Nurnberg." Gevlach 
&> Schcnk.) 

130. Icelandic matchbox, carved in wood. 

131. The words audeo, spero. Plaques of fretted ivory, applied 

to a Portuguese cabinet. (Cluny Museum.) 

132. The name de-boen, chased in leather. From an Italian 

comb case. 15th century. (V. & A. M.) 

133. iron lock, with chiselled inscription, o. maria [f] los 


tecum bene[dicta]. French. 15th century. (V. & 
A. M.) 

134. stencil plate. The extended limbs of the letters designed 

to strengthen it. (L. F. D.) 

135. varieties of the letter a, from early printed books. 

136. mary — The letters breaking out into scrollery, which forms 

a background to them, and holds the design together. 

137. f, from a grotesque woodcut alphabet. 1464. (In the 

Library at the B M.) 

138. a. Woodcarving. French. 16th century. (V. & A. M.) 

139. prayer book of Mary Tudor, Queen of England. Crimson 

velvet, with silver gilt mounts spelling the word regina. 
1 6th century. (Preserved at Stonyhurst College.) 



141. woodcut initials Florid Gothic. By Israel van Meckenen. 


142. illuminated initial, from a choir book in the Sala Pico- 

lomini, adjoining the Cathedral at Siena. 16th century. 

143. woodcut initials, by Rob. Stephanus. Paris. 1532. 

144. I 

. -woodcut initials. French. 

145. J 

146. early woodcut initials. Italian. 

147. early woodcut initials. German. 

148. early woodcut initials. French. 

149. early woodcut initials, by G. Tory. French. 

-early woodcut initials. Italian. 

152. 1 

153. '-early woodcut initials. French. 

154. J 


156. early woodcut initials, by Lucas Cranach. Bale. 


158. early woodcut initials. German. 


160. woodcut initials, attributed to Holbein. German. 1532. 

161. woodcut initials. Holbein. 

162. | 

163. -early woodcut initials. German. 



166. s., in glazed earthenware. Designed by Godfrey Sykes. 

(V. & A. M.) 

167. alphabet. Designed by Godfrey Sykes. (V. & A. M.) 
16S. woodcut initials, by Matthias Gereon. 1555. 

169. early woodcut initial. (Same series as 164.) Bale. 

170. woodcarving, by Francois Siebecq, from the bedchamber 

of Henri II. in the Louvre. 

171. wooden ceiling in the Salle de Diane, Chateau de Fon- 


172. paving tiles, from Harpesden Church, Oxon. Early 14th 

century. (B. M.) 

'*■ J-GOTHic pew-ends, from a church in Somersetshire. 
1 74 J 

175. earthenware dish, painted in blue and lustre on a white 

ground. Spanish. 15th or 16th century. (V. & A. M.) 

176. cloth, embroidered with the collar of the Saint Esprit, and 

devices from it. (Cluny Museum.) 

177. glazed tile, from the ancient Chateau de Beauty. 

(Havard's " Dictionnaire de l'Ameublement.") 

[From stalls, carved in pinewood, in the Church of S. 
' ' -j Valentine, Kiedrich. German. 1510. ("Monumental 
^ 9 ' I Schriften." Gevlach &■• Schenk.) 

180. monogrammic device, A Hand cross, in couched gold thread, 

by Beatrice Waldram. 

181. cypher decoration, painted in red and green on a whitish 

ground, from the roof of Sail Church, Norfolk. 

182. monogram, the background inlaid in flint upon a pier in 

Wymondham Church, Norfolk. 


i S3, part of the lid of a pearwood casket, carved with a diaper 
of strapwork, crowned initials, etc., said to have belonged 
to Mary Queen of Scots. Scottish. 15th century. (B. M.) 

1S4. alphabet in drawn work, from an old sampler. (V. & A. M.) 

185. lettering, with ornamental background designed to take 

from its obtrusiveness. 

186. device with cypher v. r. , by F. Montague. (H. Soane.) 


V. & A. M. = Victoria and Albert Museum. 
B. M. = British Museum. 
L. F. D. = Lewis F. Day. 



Lettering has, over and above its practical use. 
and apart from any ornamental treatment of its 
forms, a decorative value of its own ; and until 
recent times craftsmen of all kinds turned it 
habitually to account in their designs. More than 
that, lettering is (or was, so long as any care for it 
existed) in itself ornamental. A page consistently 
set up in good type — of one character throughout, 
after the manner of days when there was life in 
lettering, and not "displayed" after the distract- 
ing fashion of the modern printer — a merely well 
planned page is in its degree a thing of beauty. 
To that end, of course, the letters must be 
well shaped and well spaced ; but, given the 
artist equal to the not very tremendous task of 
shaping them, or it may be of choosing them only 
and putting them together, mere type is in itself 
something upon which the eye can rest with 

L.O. B 



satisfaction. To handle a printed book of the 
days when the printer cared for his art is a 
pleasure second only to that of turning over the 
pages of a fine manuscript. 

And this is no mere prejudice of the biblio- 
maniac, who, indeed, values books for reasons not 
intimately connected with the love of beauty. 
Decorative artists have in all times felt the charm 
of lettering, and owned it in their work ; they 
have gone even to the length of inventing mock 
writing, when they had nothing to say by it except 
how thoroughly they appreciated the use of any- 
thing like an inscription in design. 

Artists as remote from decorative tendencies 
in their own work as the painter of " The 
Angelus " have been deeply interested in letter- 
ing. It is told of J. F. Millet* that as a 
boy he used to write verses of the Bible 
on the wooden gates in the fields, choosing his 
text to fit the bars. Each letter, he held, had an 
intrinsic decorative value of its own ; and its form 
meant something to him. He would describe to 
his son, in teaching him, how the top of the big G 
stooped over as if to drink out of the little goblet 
below ; and he had a liking for the combination of 

* H. Naegely. "J. F. Millet and Rustic Art." 

letters in certain words, even in foreign words 
which he did not understand. WEYMOUTH, 
for example, struck him as a fine combination of 
letters to express a poor thin-sounding word. 
Another artist who would have repudiated any 


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particular leaning towards the ornamental side of 
art, and who yet saw decorative value in lettering, 
was Robert Louis Stevenson, who, a year before 
his death, was bent on decorating the ruddy 
wooden walls of his house at Samoa with letter- 
ing. His idea was, to have made for him some 

B 2 


hundreds of gilt letters on the model of " really 
exquisitely fine clear type from some Roman 
monument " mounted on spikes like drawing-pins. 
"You see," he wrote to Mr. St. Gaudens, 
" suppose you entertain an honoured guest, when 
he goes he leaves his name in gilt letters on your 
walls ; an infinity of fun and decoration can be got 
out of hospitable and festive mottoes ; and the 
doors of every room can be beautified by the 
legend of their names. I really think there is 
something in the idea." It was with reluctance 
he abandoned it. " I had a strong conviction," 
he wrote later, " in that I was a great hand at 
writing inscriptions, and meant to exhibit and 
test my genius on the walls of my house ; and 
now I see I can't. It is generally thus. The 
Battle of the Golden Letters will never be 
delivered. On making preparation to open the 
campaign, the King found himself face to face 
with invincible difficulties, in which the rapacity 
of a mercenary soldiery and the complaints of an 
impoverished treasury played an equal part." 

It is no mere fancy, then, of the book-lover or of 
the decorator, that lettering is worthy of its place 





in ornament. Lines of well formed lettering, 
whether on the page of a book or on the panel of 
a wall, break its surface pleasantly. It has only 
to be proportioned and set out with judgment to 
decorate the one or the other — modestly it is true, 
but the best of decoration is modest ; and it is not 
the least of the ornamental qualities belonging to 
lettering that it does not clamour for attention, but 
will occupy a given space without asserting itself. 
It gives at first sight not much more than texture 
or variety of surface; yet, when you come to look 
closely at it, it tells you what could in no other 
way be so clearly conveyed. Symbols may be 
misinterpreted, pictures may not convey all that 
is meant, the written or the graven word tells 
what they cannot : there is no mistaking it. 

At the same time, penned, painted, carved, or 
anywise adequately rendered, it is in itself 
decorative. This seems to apply to the script of 
no matter what race ; Egyptian hieroglyphic, 
Assyrian cuneiform imprint, Greek or Roman 
chiselling, Gothic penmanship, are all alike pleasant 
to see, quite apart from the meaning of the words, 
which may, as likely as not, be past our understand- 
ing. So too the writing of strange peoples every- 
where, the Hebrew character, the Slavonic (2), 
the Pali of the Buddhists (3), the Runic of the 
Icelanders (4), the Cufic and the Neshki of the 
Arabs (5), and all manner of to us mystifying 
script, conveying to the unlearned absolutely 




nothing of the meaning of the words, tell us 
one and all of the decorative value of mere 

There is perhaps no more absolutely satisfactory 
simple way of breaking a surface than by means of 
well formed, well spaced lettering. In combination 
with ornament it has from the first been used by 
the decorator, and always with effect. On painted 
mummy cases from Egypt, in carved reliefs from 
Nineveh, and ivories from Byzantium (6), on 
coins from Greece and Syracuse (46, 67), on Persian 
tiles and lustred pottery, on Gothic glass (8) and 
tapestry, on church embroidery (n) and furni- 
ture (7), on leather bindings, in locksmith's and 
goldsmith's work (1 and 15) and all manner of 
craftsmanship, in the decoration of the manu- 
scripts and books of all times (12), and on the 
seals and signet rings of all peoples, lettering in 
some form, often a very emphatic one, plays a 
decorative part. 

In modern days we seem to have lost sight of 
its artistic possibilities. Only here and there an 
artist appears to perceive the opportunities it 
offers. William Morris himself did not, except in 
his printed books, turn it to appreciable account ; 

though once at least Sir E. Burne-Jones in his 
panel of Perseus and the Graeat (10) bound his 


composition together by a broad overhanging belt 
of beautiful lettering across the vacant background 


of the panel — very much as the medallist of the 
Renaissance before him clouded as it were the sky 
of his medallion (g) with inscription. 

The use, however, of lettering in ornament does 


not depend upon its association with picture. It is 
itself the graphic art. It takes the place of picture, 
and conveys in the surest way what might possibly 
have been conveyed by carved groups or painted 


figure subjects — but not so precisely ; and all this 
without calling attention to itself. There are 
abundant occasions when decoration ought not 
to attract too much notice, apart from those other 


occasions when adequate figure design is out of the 
question. It must be remembered (though it may 
sometimes suit us to forget it) that the moderate 
degree of artistic accomplishment which contents 
us in old work will not do for us in the produc- 
tions of our own day. We have passed the period 


of unsophisticated art when naivete was possible, 
and are fast coming to the conclusion (if indeed 
we have not already reached it) that, decoration 
being in the nature of a luxury, superfluous in 
the sense that it is possible to do without it, 
only the best is to be tolerated, the best of its 
kind. Rather than feeble figure-work let us 
have good ornament ; rather than poor scrollery 
let us have mere diaper, or some other simplest 
form of enrichment. 

Here, surely, lettering comes in, an art within 
the scope of any decent craftsman — give him but 
a model to work from. For, to tell the truth, the 
pretty theory that the workman should be left to 
his own devices in design, works out in sheer waste 
of workmanship. It is not so much that invention 
is a rare gift, but that in the matter of taste, almost 
as rare, the workman lacks as a rule the culture 
which would keep him straight. With regard to 
absolute originality, there is not much scope for it 
in lettering ; and when a man speaks of designing 
it, he means, as a rule, no more than that it is his 

Meaning plays by no means an essential part 
in ornament — the prime purpose of which is 
beauty ; but it may be desirable, in addition 
to beauty, and the artist with ideas desires 
always to do something more than solve a 
decorative problem. Thoughtful artists turn to 
symbolism, with the result that they are hampered 



by it in their design, and perhaps led into a form 
of expression which conveys their meaning only 
to the smallest circle of admirers. The possi- 
bilities of symbolism stop suddenly short. The 
designer is faced by two alternatives. Either the 
symbols at his service are familiar, so familiar as 
to be hackneyed and commonplace, or, if they are 
of his own imagining, the interpretation of them 






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makes demands upon our sympathetic recognition 
to which only here and there an appreciative soul 
responds. It has continually been found necessary 
to explain the significance of symbols, and even to 
call in for that purpose the aid of lettering, which of 
itself would have sufficed without them. It is not 
as though symbols were of themselves invariably 
ornamental. The sign which best conveys the 
meaning of the artist may not, and in practice 
often does not, readily conform to the conditions 


of design, and its forcible introduction into the 
scheme of decoration has consequently always 
an air of intrusion. 

Lettering, on the other hand, is bv nature most 


amenable to treatment; there are so many varieties 
of lettering, so many ways of introducing it ; and, 
given the artist accustomed to its manipulation, 
it can so readily be made to take its place in such 
a way as certainly not to mar the decorative effect, 
and most likely to enhance it. 

1 6 

A picture itself, or a piece of sculpture, con- 
ceived in the spirit of decoration, may gain no less 
in decorative value than in significance by the 
introduction into it of lettering in one form or 


another. This lettering may fill, or just suffi- 
ciently occupy, a panel or a tablet ; it may be 
introduced into the nimbus of a saint or on a 
label encompassing him ; it may be as it were 
embroidered on the hem of his garment or 


written across the folds of it, as was done in 
mediaeval times — whilst the Assyrian of old boldly 
cut his cuneiform inscriptions right across his pic- 
tures in relief; it may be-diaper the ground (n), 
or otherwise enter into its decoration (6) ; the 
devices of the designer are more than it is here 
possible to number. In certain initials from early 
printed books (12) lettering at once decorative 
and explanatory is introduced into the subsidiary 
decoration of the capital letters. 

Ornament, apart from picture, may gain still 
more from lettering, which takes, in turn, the 
place of figured story. It may form itself the 
staple of all decorative device, as in many an 
instance here given ; it may be cunningly inter- 
woven with ornament (13) ; it may be plentifully 
employed (14) or sparingly (170) ; it is equally 
ready to fill the most conspicuous place or to 
retire discreetly into obscurity ; it is the most 
obedient servant of the ornamentist. 




The idea of lettering is so closely bound up with 
that of printed type that the book, from title 
page to printer's mark, naturally comes into 

Due consideration of it from the printer's point 
of view would, however, lead us astray from the 
present purpose ; it would demand quite a volume 
to itself. The very extent of my subject compels 
its compression within strict limits. It will be 
impossible here to do more than consider the 
page, printed or written, as a comparatively com- 
pact mass of lettering, the main business of which 
is to tell us something, but to tell it with decent 
regard for appearances : it would not otherwise 
come within our scope at all. The assumption 
that the appearance of the page is to be improved 
only at the cost of legibility, may have some 
grounds in the vagaries of artists wanting in 
respect for the art in which they dabble, but it is 
not founded upon any inherent incompatibility 
between what is beautiful and what can easily be 
read. Lettering may very well answer both con- 
ditions, and should do so. Is our newspaper type 
more legible than a fine Roman inscription ? Any 


advantage print may have lies entirely in the 
fact that the man in the street is more familiar 
with it. Modern improvements (?) in type have 
unfortunately been in the one direction of plain 
printing, leaving aside the question of beauty, with 
the result that the immediate effect of any artistic 
improvement in letter-shapes must be a degree 
of strangeness which, however slight, will strike 
people as less readable — not that it is really so. 
Only in so far is it true, that more beautiful 
lettering means lettering more difficult to read. 
Many a beautiful script which asks of us rather 
more attention than modern type, would be at 
least as plain to us if it were our ordinary reading. 
There is not the slightest doubt that twentieth 
century type might well be made more beautiful 
than it is. The obstacles in the way of doing it are, 
not that such type would be less readable, but that 
" practical " people have made up their minds that 
it would be, and vast commercial interests are 
engaged on the side of letting things be. The 
best we can hope for is gradual improvement, and 
that such slight changes as occur in the fashions 
of print may be for the better. It is well that 
artistic attention should be called to it, for some- 
thing of all artistic doing trickles through into 
trade. The effort of William Morris has not been 
without effect. Printers who would most emphati- 
cally deny that they are converted to his opinions 
have plainly been influenced by his work. 

c 2 

In the case of the written page, as of the graven 
slab, the painted tablet, and other hand lettering, 
(to all of which much that is here said equally 
applies) the artist is untrammelled except by public 
prejudice, which, if he deserves the name, he will 
to some extent ignore. It is the bounden duty of 
the caligrapher to obey the principle of beauty, to 
shape his letters as perfectly, and to space them as 
pleasantly, as conditions will allow. 

The conditions of execution with pen, brush, 
graver or other tool will affect in most cases the 
shape of the letters. With regard to their distri- 
bution and arrangement, the conditions apply 
equally to page, panel, tablet, or any solid block 
of writing such as the rectangular patch of com- 
pact inscription adopted by Greek or Roman 
carvers when they did not frame it in mouldings 
or design a tablet for its reception. 

Let us take the printed page as typical of the 
area on which a patch of lettering is to be spread. 
Experience proves that the eye is best satisfied 
by a tolerably uniform distribution of the letters, 
Roman, Gothic, or whatever their character, over 
it, so that they give at first sight the impression 
of a fairly even surface, distinguished from the 
surrounding surface (that is, the margin) more by 
a difference of tint than by any appreciable letter- 
forms within the mass. 

The tint of print is, however, only relatively 
even : words are of uneven length ; and there may 


be other breaks in its continuity, occurring as the 
sense of the words determines., and just not as the 
compositor would have them. Nevertheless he is 
bound to accept them, not merely to take them 
into account, but to make the best of them, un- 
happily as they may come for him. He cannot, 
without forfeiting all claim to artistic feeling, 
shirk the difficulty of so scheming his lines that 
they are of equal length, that the words are 
broken as little as possible and never awkwardly, 
and that the spaces between them do not run into 
little rivulets of white wandering irregularly down 
the page, to its extreme disfigurement. Broad 
spaces of white between the lines of print inter- 
cept such ugly streams, at the same time that they 
make reading easier ; but the comparatively even 
tint given by closely compact lines of type is more 
restful to the eye than distinctly marked bars of 
print. Here is, for once, a point of divergence 
between the most useful and the most beautiful 
way of doing it. It applies, however, more to 
printed books than to carved, graven or written 

In books, where easy reading counts for much 
and symmetry for little, it would be absurd to 
sacrifice convenience to effect, and to abandon 
any division or distribution of the text upon the 
page enabling us to grasp the meaning readily. 
We want our reading made easy : and there is 
not the least doubt that breaks in the type which 


correspond to breaks in the sense do make it 
easier. The division of the text into words, 
sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, is a foregone 
conclusion, with which it is futile to quarrel. 

The remedy for the undue preponderance of 
white, where a paragraph breaks the uniformity of 
the printed page, is, not to do away with para- 
graphs, but to break up the page into a number 
of them. That also makes it livelier and easier 
to read ; and if to some extent it takes away from 
the importance attaching to a less frequent pause, 
the balance of emphasis can be restored by a dis- 
tinctive form of letter at the beginning of the 
dominant paragraph, denoting a fresh start — 
which of itself may be made to add to the interest 
and beauty of the page. But the consideration 
of the initial letter belongs to another chapter. 

An alternative to leaving a blank space at the 
end of a sentence, is to mark the pause by a printed 
sign, much heavier than the type of course (or it 
would not equally arrest the attention) and there- 
fore no less objectionable than the plain paper : 
the recurrence of relatively solid black ornaments 
amidst the grey tint given by the type, is even 
more irritating than gaps of white in it. The sign, 
of something like equal weight with the text, by 
which the Greek scribe, say of the eighth century, 
marks a pause in the sense, is proportionately 
happier in effect, but does not meet the modern 
need for a signal which there can be no mistaking 


even from a long way off. In fact, the demand for 
something more like " stops " is as old as the tenth 

The proportion of the patch of print to the page 
of the book, the amount, that is to say, of margin 
left round the text, and the position of the patch 
upon the page, have very much to do with its 

16. printers' marks. 

appearance, and are very serious considerations 
with the artist. It has been attempted to define 
precisely how to place the print upon the page ; 
but it is one thing to say this or that system 
answers well, and another to insist that only upon 
one system are good results to be got. The pro- 
portion of print to plain paper is just one of those 
points upon which an artist follows his instinct, 
and is not to be bound by rule : he works out 
rules for himself. 


The double column owes its origin presumably 
to practical convenience. When the page was 
broad, and the type employed was not very large, 
the lines of print ran to such a length of words 
that it was not easy to carry back the eye and 
take up the next line with certainty. The obvious 
remedy for this was to have two shorter lines of 
print, with a sufficiently broad interval between 
them to divide the print into clearly marked 
columns. And the effect of this in early printed 
books was most satisfactory. In modern printing, 
where the space between the columns is reduced to 
a minimum (when will some really practical news- 
paper printer give us once more columns sufficiently 
wide apart ?), the effect is not merely unpleasing 
but perplexing, the eye being continually caught by 
something in the adjoining column and led astray. 
Except, however, in very wide pages, excusable 
mainly on the grounds that they may be necessary 
to adequate illustration, the double column is no 
longer wanted, and is in fact so nearly obsolete that, 
where it survives, it has a distinctly old-fashioned 

It is, nevertheless, no less effective than it is logical, 
to consider the two pages of the open book as one 
area on which to plant, as it were, two columns of 
print. A very considerable reduction of the inner 
margins, as compared with the outer and the 
upper and lower, has this effect ; and it is perhaps 
the most satisfactory way of composing the page 



— if only the binder were to be depended upon. 
Unless the folding of the sheets is perfect, the two 
patches of print do not range, and the closer they 
come together the more obtrusive is the fault : it 
is not so easily detected when there is a broad 
space of white between. 

The ornamentation of the page, beyond the 
mere setting out of type upon it, is a subject 
apart. The only opportunity of the compositor 
for anything like free and fanciful composition is 
in the title page, where, again, he does wisely in 
curbing his fancy. Plain print in the body of the 
book seems to demand corresponding severity in 
the treatment of the title page, in any case the 
most difficult page in the book to set out. 

Our type is a carrying on of the character which 
came originally from the use of the pen. It will 
always probably, perhaps it always should, bear 
traces of its origin : we do not want to wipe out 
the landmarks of its history. But there seems no 


reason why this carrying on should not be also 
a carrying further, and in the direction, not of 
writing, but of printing, and even of type-founding. 
Why should not type bear on its face the evidence 
of that also ? 

As in the title page of a book, so in a newspaper 
heading (17), or the cover of a magazine, there is 
possible scope for design, more especially as they 
are not ordinarily printed from type, but from a 
block. Unfortunately, however, the publisher's 
idea of lettering is usually type, to which he 
would have the artist conform most strictly. The 
demand of trade is, further, for something which 
shall advertise itself on the railway bookstalls, 
which shall be unmistakably readable as the 
flurried passenger hurries past to catch his train, 
and at the same time fresh and unexpected. The 
dictates of art, on the other hand, suggest some- 
thing which shall not shout itself hoarse. 

It is difficult under such conditions to do more 
than design bold, broad and effective lettering, 
and to go as far towards mitigating its obtrusive- 
ness as the publisher will permit ; but one cannot 
help doubting whether the clever people whose 
business it is to gauge the public taste do not 
over-estimate its vulgarity. 

Advertisement, into which lettering enters, 
and must always enter, largely, affords but little 
scope for art — it is a game of brag ; but publishers 
and others who have an interest in announcing not 













merely what they have to sell, but the beauty and 
refinement of the things, might well trust some- 
thing to the efficacy of tasteful announcement. 
Where, by chance, the responsibility for an ad- 
vertisement sheet is in the hands of people not so 
much concerned about trade as about art, and 
they entrust its design to a competent artist, as in 
the case of Mr. Anning Bell's announcement of 
the Liverpool School of Art, the result, though by 
no means legible at a glance, is something which, 
by its very distinction from the common run of 
flaring posters, attracts attention and holds it. 
For the rest, the only chance of the decorative 
artist in the direction of advertisement rests with 
the poster-humorist, who has found his oppor- 
tunity, and makes good use of it — if not of lettering 

To return, however, to the wider subject of the 
printed page, all that is here claimed on behalf 
of art is, due regard to its appearance. In the 
printing of books the ruling consideration is not 
beauty, but the sense of the author's words. The 
only question open to serious dispute is, how best 
to make that clear, and easy reading, with least 
violence, if any, to the sense of proportion and 



The written page is naturally set out very much 
on the lines of print — itself, of course, originally 
modelled upon manuscript. In so far as type 
and manuscript seek the same end, they are 
subject to the same laws ; but only to that extent ; 
and the aim of the two is not identical. 

The scribe of old was not so bent upon rapid 
writing that he had no time to consider its form, 
nor so intent upon ready reading that he dared not 
make the slightest demand upon the attention of 


the reader. You may see that in Don Alfonso his 
mark (19). And to-day also when a page is penned 
it is not with a view to conveying the author's mean- 
ing in the plainest and most unmistakable way. 

The craft of the scribe (as distinguished from 
the fluent correspondent) is not so utilitarian as 
that of the printer. The writer is free to indulge in 
luxuries of art which the printer cannot afford, at 
times even to sacrifice something of plain speech 
to what might be called rhetoric ; he has, by 
right of his pen, a faculty of taking liberties with 
the set form and mechanical order of letters, 
which the man of print has not, a power which 
insensibility only would neglect to exercise. 
When, as in the present day, caligraphy is 
employed no longer in writing books upon 
parchment but in penning the text to accompany 
some form of illustration (eventually to be incor- 
porated in the printer's process-block), the free 
exercise of his power is the very occasion and 
excuse of the artist for venturing into penmanship. 
He is in a sort compelled to make the venture ; for 
the decoration of the page implies the sympathetic 
rendering of accompanying text. 

The art of lettering is one which the decorative 
artist cannot afford to neglect ; not necessarily 
ornamental script, but plain, simple lettering — 
something which, when he is decorating a book, he 
may use in his designs, or with his designs, in place 
of type. Type is only too ready to his hand; but 




when it comes to finding a fount which will go well 
with pen or brush drawing, the choice is well nigh 
hopeless. Nothing seems to be quite right. If he 
wants something which shall not jar with his work, 
he must do it himself; and to do it satisfactorily he 
must be master of at least one form of lettering. 

It is true that many an artist who has felt the 
incongruity of type, and therefore penned his own 
page, has only escaped from one trouble into another. 
" I hope," writes a distinguished author, apropos 
of the publication of his own poems, " it isn't 
necessary to put the verse into that rustic print- 
ing. I am Philistine enough to prefer clean 
printer's type : indeed, I can form no idea of the 
verses thus transcribed by the incult and totter- 
ing hand of the draughtsman, nor gather any 
impression beyond one of weariness to the eyes." 
Who does not sympathise with this protest against 
the bad work of perhaps a good artist ? A man 
may be an excellent draughtsman, and yet in the 
direction of caligraphy no more expert than a 
child. But the choice is not between the bad 


writing of the artist and the hard and fast type of 
the founder- — of which two evils type may be the 
lesser ; there are at least two other alternatives — 
that the artist should learn to write, or that he 
should get a sympathetic scribe to write for him. 

Caligraphy is a term we use in speaking of the 
ancient or mediaeval scribe, because he it was who 
wrote beautifully. The scribe who cultivates the art 
of writing is to-day rare, but the species is happily 
not extinct ; and there is, at all events in some 
quarters, a rather general desire to master script, 
consequent upon the realisation of its use in design. 

An artist may have no desire to deviate into 
ornament, and yet appreciate the advantages of 
penning his own lettering, or seeing it written 
under his own eye. It gives him, even if he 
accepts the alphabet as it is, in all its severe 
simplicity, the opportunity, not only of shaping it 
to suit himself, but of placing the letters where and 
as he likes ; and, if he should want an even effect, 
of spacing them more perfectly than print allows. 
He can put letters just as close together or just as 
far apart as may seem fit to him, can spread, 
contract, persuade them even, by some slightest 
modification of the letter-shapes, to accommodate 
themselves one to another as ready-cast type can- 
not possibly do. He can give to capitals their 
relative importance, and emphasise his words in 
other ways than by the use of italics. In short, 
he can have his own way instead of going the way 




2f.(lfl. : RSYr.H6!T/l(lW6KK 





of the machine — only he must have command of 
his implement, pen or brush or whatever it be : 
his writing must be adequate. 

The writer does wrong to form himself, as he 
often does, upon printed type (his obvious model is 
manuscript, upon which that itself is formed), and 
especially wrong to emulate the regularity of print. 
He can get with the pen or brush qualities of more 
account than mechanical precision (in aiming at 
which he is at a disadvantage as compared with the 
machine), qualities beyond the scope of printing, 
and of a kind which differentiate his work from it. 

It may be as well to exemplify the sort of even- 
ness of distribution to be obtained in penmanship 
and not in printing. The writer has only to pro- 
long a stroke to occupy the gap of white which 
occurs between two such letters as RT, or EV 

l.o. d 


Or the gap may be avoided by the choice of a 
different type of letter; it will be seen (diagram 22) 
how the choice of the straddling M fills up the 
space left at the foot of the letter F, and how it 
widens the breach after the letter A. 

Writers of old never seem to have been bound 
hard and fast to one type of letter. Even in the 
same phrase various forms of the same letter occur, 
as if it happened so, much to the enlivenment of 
the page. And such variation shows regard (con- 
scious or unconscious) to the way the various shapes 
compose. The playful variety of old lettering is 
one of the charms we find in it. How pleasant 
the surprise of the rectangular C occurring once 
only in the word ECCE, as we find it on the 
doors at Le Puy (diagram 22). One has less 
sympathy nowadays with the turning about of 
a letter to make it fit a space. That was all very 
well when writers were not particular as to whether 
the bar of the N slanted this way or that. We 
are no longer at liberty to make a P or S face back- 
wards; it is a device belonging to a stage of letter- 
ing more elementary than the one we have reached. 

The same objection does not apply to the liberty 
taken on occasion with the size of individual letters; 
but there should be occasion for it. It should be 
done with deliberate purpose — for the sake of 
compression, composition, emphasis, not out of 
mere wilfulness. It is reasonable enough to reduce 
the size of a letter in order to bring it into the desired 


compass, to make it. for example, occupy the blank 
space which always follows the letter L— observe 
the compactness of the letters LOD and the want 
of it in LOI (diagram 22)— but to reduce an unfor- 
tunate vowel always to proportions at which it 
looks more like a stop than a letter, does not seem 
to justify itself on any ground of taste or expe- 

FMFM E)(5)V 


diency, except that it enables the writer to shirk 
the difficulty of penning a bold round O — a paltry 
excuse for pretended artistry. 

One is apt to resent mere wilfulness on the part of 
the scribe — variations, that is to say, not suggested 
by conditions of the case. We accept them readily 
when there is reason for them, and all the more 
readily when the writer consistently carries through 
the idea of compression, or whatever his motive 
may be. Old writers often saved space by 
enclosing one letter within another, as in the 
combinations DI, ON, VS (diagram 22). 


Once in a while we are able to express by the 
proportions of a letter something not otherwise 
easily to be conveyed — as, for example, by reducing 
the size of a letter in the word MARY to indicate 
a pet name in which the R is familiarly dropped. 

A useful rule of writing has been laid down by Herr 
v. Larisch, from whose " Beispiele Kunstlerischer 
Schrift " two very different instances are given 
(20 and 21), to the effect that the letters of a word 
should be so contrived that the ground-space 
between them is always equal (not the distance 
between their extremities) ; but that is possible 
only on condition of taking occasional liberties of 
the kind already mentioned. The Viennese artist, 
it will be seen (20), adopts the old German 
device of writing the double T in GOTT as one 
letter, and the Bavarian (21) dwarfs a Z when his 
composition requires it. 

When it comes to the modification of the letter- 
shape, in what is ostensibly plain lettering, the 
penman is on rather dangerous ground ; but he 
may safely lengthen the limbs of letters, or other- 
wise extend or compress them, so long as no im- 
pression is conveyed of torturing them, or of trifling 
with a script which has serious business to do. 
The impression of affectation is easily produced 
by undue liberties with the proportion of letters. 
The bar of the A or of the H is not once and for 
all fixed ; it may be shifted a trifle higher or lower 
without hurt ; but the fashion, not merely of high- 


waisted letters, but of waists gradually rising almost 
to their necks, becomes absurd. It is one thing to 
depart from orthodoxy, another to go beyond the 
bounds of all moderation. It is only in modera- 
tion that freedom of hand is here claimed, and 
only on this ground : that the proportion of the 



'■S. ■ =:* 



\** 1' 


letter itself is of less moment than the aspect of 
the word, the line, the page, in favour of which 
the letter must be sacrificed. 

The variety which is the charm of handwork 
comes naturally to the writer who is ready with 
his pen or brush ; and, if for its sake only, it is 
incumbent upon the decorator, and especially upon 
the ornamentist, to master the art of lettering. 
He need not be adept in lettering of all kinds, but 
at least he should take some one character, Roman, 


Gothic, or whatever may best suit his style of work 
(of course, a fine type of letter, not common 
newspaper print), and master that, make it his, 
get as expert in it as in writing a running hand. 
Let him acquire, in short, a hand of his own ; 
it need be no more like print than his epistolary 
hand is like a writing master's ; it should be in 
every sense his own handwriting. 

Elaborate diagrams (23) have been devised to 
show the geometric plan on which letters are sup- 
posed to be built. These are of some use in helping 
to explain the exact proportion of their parts ; but 
a draughtsman should be able to draw without all 
that amount of compass-work. The construction of 
the alphabet appears to have been first worked out 
in the fifteenth century by an Italian, one Felice 
Feliciano ; after him followed Fra Luca Paccioli ; 
but the best known diagrams are those of Diirer, 
who in his book on proportion (1525) gave twenty- 
two pages to them, and yet the types of letter he 
adopted are by no means unimpeachable. 

The fact is, all this mathematical jugglery is 
beside the question of art, and especially of design. 
It is not so that letters are designed, nor anything 
else. The artist must learn to write — painfully if 
he should have no turn that way ; but when it 
comes to lettering, he must do it straight off; 
that is necessary to spontaneity, without which 
it will never be anything but cramped. There are 
occasions when exceptional care is necessary, and 












N N .' FI6LD SoJftNU2SRY: KO\ 1562 im 


a high degree of finish and exactness ; but there 
is no middle course between direct penmanship 
or brushwork and most carefully drawn lettering. 
There is not much to be done in the way of touch- 
ing-up letters which have been freely put in. It 
must be one thing or the other. 

Spontaneity, it should be explained, does not 
imply rashness in setting out writing, or careless- 
ness in penning it. The lines should be straight, 
of equal length, and at equal distances. The soul 
of the scribe must not be beyond measurement or 
calculation. It is not till he has taken the neces- 
sary precautions, mechanical and other, that he 
can safely go ahead and write freely. 

r#^anrcnfefopiiD # 

1$ ter 

II il 



What has been said of manuscript applies in 
great part, and often with even more force, to the 
kind of inscription designed rather to be a record 
for those who care to search for it, than to serve 
as an announcement to the world — not so much an 
advertisement as a confidence. 

The architectural carver, or the monumental 
engraver, has no less absolute control of his letter- 
shapes than the penman. He is himself controlled 
by the serious purpose and position of his work ; 
and in proportion to these must be the severity of 
his lettering, as well as the stateliness with which 
it is ordered. 

Nesfield's lettering in the title page of his 
" Specimens of Mediaeval Architecture " (24) 


is unmistakably very much what he would have 
designed for a brass. There is a dignified austerity 
about it not usually to be found either in the 
printing or the penmanship of his day. 

Of such importance may be the dignity of letter 
design, that some facility in reading is readily to 
be sacrificed to it. It is not imperative that an 


inscription should be read as you run ; enough if 
it is apparent that there is an inscription which, 
if you care to pause and study it, you may read. 

Accordingly, the rules which apply to print or 
manuscript may in monumental inscription be re- 
laxed. It is no longer necessary to keep the lines of 
lettering wide apart so as to form horizontal bars of 
text ; they may follow closely one upon the other, 
and the words themselves may be closed up to form 
a compact mass. In place of orthodox punctuation, 

4 2 

and of theordinary division into sentences, the artist 
may mark the pauses in his own way. Should it be 
by the interpolation of flowers, badges, or other 
ornaments, these may now be, and usually will be, 
of equal weight with the lettering, it being no longer 
so necessary to make reading easy as to present a 
dignified inscription. The utmost the reader has a 
right to ask of him is that there shall be no possible 
mistake about it when he comes to study it. 

Architectural dignity is best preserved by the 
adoption of the simplest and severest character, 
and by distributing the lettering in the evenest and 
most formal way. The style of it must depend upon 
that of the architecture ; but straight-lined charac- 
ters, Roman or Gothic (27, 28), seem always to 
take their place in a building more as if they 
belonged to it than any florid writing ; and this is 
especially the case with carving in stone or engraving 
in metal ; anything in the nature of a flourish is 
more appropriate to the pen or brush. There is no 
possible rule, however ; an artist is guided by his 
feeling in such matters, and if he has taste it will 
guide him aright. The beautiful panel of lettering, 
well deserving its place of honour in the tomb of 
Mary of Burgundy, at Bruges (28), shows that it 
only needs the competent artist, and he can, with- 
out offence, give play to his fancy even in serious 
monumental design. It will be seen that he 
reserves in this instance the more fantastic flourish- 
ing of the letters for the base of the panel, where 
their work is over and they may safely be playful. 



Inscriptions are written by common consent in 
horizontal lines. It is not so universally conceded 
that the lines should be of equal length, and form 


therefore a compact rectangular mass of lettering. 
This may not be possible in the case of an ample 
inscription within, let us say, a wreath, which was at 
one time common enough (29). The lettering must 
often in that case perforce follow the lines enclosing 
it. But similar or other fanciful distribution of the 
words occurs also where there is no such reason 
for it, where no framing lines constrain the writer. 
In that case he loses something of the dignity and 
decorative value of inscription by straying from 
the straight line : there is virtue in its verticality. 
Even should there be some reason against a simple 
four-sided patch of lettering, the lines may with 
advantage be grouped so as to give at least a 
rectangular figure. An edge meandering in and 
out unmeaningly, or following a florid framing 
line, is a thing to avoid. And if the frame compels 
it, the fault was in designing a frame so ill-adapted 
to its purpose. The rectangular space is invariably 
satisfactory (30). Given a frame to fill, the 
designer of an inscription must do his best ; and a 
competent artist will make the best of even a very 
bad job ; but, clearly, the better way to set about 
lettering in decoration is, to set out the inscription 
before designing a tablet or setting of any kind for 
it — to design, in fact, the frame for the lettering, 
not adapt the lettering to the frame. 

To the inexpert a word or two may be accept- 
able as to the setting out of an inscription. There 
may be many ways of doing it. Mine is one which 
works out satisfactorily. It is this: — 


4 6 

I. Imagine about how you think the inscription 
would subdivide — say into so many lines (long or 
short according to your scheme of design). 


2. Write one line as it comes. 

3. Count the number of letters in the line 
(reckoning the space between word and word as 
equivalent to one letter). 

4. Reckon to how many lines your inscription 


- y.-rr- 


will run, and how this number of lines will suit 
your space. 

5. If it does not accommodate itself, you may 
have to begin again ; but each successive guess is 
likely to be nearer the mark than the last. 

6. Having determined that your inscription 
shall be in so many lines, averaging so many 
letters, at such or such a distance apart, the next 
step is to note (upon the rough copy of the words) 
where the lines would end, and how the words 
would be broken. 

7. You will probably find that, by a little 
readjustment, taking a letter or two from one line 
and including it in another, you can divide your 
inscription into lines containing each a number 




of letters which, by a little compression in one 
case and a little distension in another, will give 
lines of equal length, without the necessity of 
breaking any word awkwardly. Very awkward 
words might possibly involve a reconsideration of 
the whole scheme. 

8. Having determined finally the words which 
shall occupy each line, you sketch in the letters, 
lightly of course, because only tentatively. It is 
not until you have quite satisfied yourself as to 
the spacing of the words, that it is safe to begin 
with the pen, brush, or chisel. A false start is fatal. 

9. In finally adjusting the letters, some compres- 
sion or distension of the words may, it was said, be 
necessary ; but it is the line that has to be closed up 
or spread out ; there is not much to be done with a 
separate word or two, without danger of disfiguring 
the text. It must seem as if the lines were of 
equal length ; any clear evidence of a word being 
squeezed in, or long drawn out, tells against the 
writer. The possibilities of contraction within the 
compass of a single word are greater when the 
artist is free to use conjoint letters (p. 109), or 
otherwise take liberties with the form and propor- 
tion of individual letters. A rather extreme instance 



S. JACOBI, LL'BECK, 1 599. 

of making free with the normal letter-shapes is 
given above (31). 

Apart, of course, from the style of letter deter- 
mined by the architecture of a building or monu- 
ment, is the character which comes of its execution 
in stone (zy), or metal (30), and of its standing 
up in relief upon a sunken ground (27), or being cut 
into the surface (29). The face of the letters may, 
indeed, be carved, and sometimes is, especially in 
wood ; it may be modelled, and sometimes is, in 
clay ; and there is no precise limit to the relief or 
modelling in which the artist may on occasion 
indulge ; but it is not often that it is desirable to 
interfere with the flat surface of lettering ; there is 
a danger of frittering away the valuable surface 
of the material; and the forms of most letters 
express themselves sufficiently by their outline 
alone. Even the so-called ribbon letters (32), 
in which the turnover of the ribbon needs to be 
expressed, want little more than one sharp cut to 
express the fold. To insist upon nearer resemblance 
to ribbon is to indulge in a florid form of letter- 
ing remarkable, not for architectural dignity, 
but for a certain playfulness, pleasing indeed, but 
ill-suited to very serious and sober decoration : it 

L.O. E 



is not so much lettering in ornament as ornamental 
lettering — which is not the subject of this chapter. 
There is less occasion, then, in architecture for 
actually modelled lettering than for letters cut into 
the ground or left in flat relief upon it. Either 
expedient is in its place equally perfect. In incised 
lettering the surface of the slab is preserved ; but 
the simple " grounding out " of the letters, leaving 
the metal, stone, or wood intact, to form their face, 
is also a sure way of preserving their breadth of 
surface. It is quite commonly employed in brass 
and bronze, plain strips of metal (measuring perhaps 
as much as twice the thickness of the strokes of 
the letters) being left between the rows of writing, 
broken only by the tops and tails of tall letters 
them, and by an occasional 

engraved across 



initial (34). This expedient of the band was, in 
fact, almost necessary for the accommodation of 
the projecting parts of the minuscule letters ; 
certainly it has invariably a good effect. 

The grounding-out of letters upon brass was 
sometimes done with a view to filling- in the space 
with black or coloured mastic ; but the sunken 
parts, being beyond the reach of the polisher, 
soon tarnish in any case, and deepen of themselves 
in colour, with the result that the letters tell light 
and bright upon it. 

So in the case of wood or stone, the surface of 
the raised letter is apt to get in time a polish 
which the ground does not. A sunken ground 
is commonly adopted in black letter inscriptions, 
in which the upright strokes come close together ; 

E 2 


and there is seldom any broad surface of ground 
between. In the case of Roman letters, or Gothic 
letters more or less of the Roman type, there are 
apt to be gaps in the ground, which give rise to 
the occasion, if not the need, for ornament of 
some kind, in order to preserve the evenness of 
the inscription. The danger may, however, be 
evaded by closing the letters up and minimis- 
ing the space between them, especially if the 
inscription is in channels with plain raised bands 
between. A similar plan of crowding out the 
background may be employed with good effect 
by the penman or painter. By . merely draw- 
ing his letters in outline as close together as 
he can and filling in the background, he gets 
a character in his lettering (33) quite different 
from that which would result from painting light 
letters upon a dark band. In the case of black 
letter inscriptions, the engraver of the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries often, as before said, made 
incisions in them to suggest the turn-over of a strap 
or ribbon, playing indeed slight variations upon 
that simple idea with admirable effect ; but he 
was happiest when he was content to suggest a 
turnover and did not want to imitate it. 




The flaw in black letter inscription is the incon- 
gruity of the capitals used with it. They break the 
line perhaps happily, and relieve the monotony of 
an exceptionally rigid form of minuscule ; but 
they rarely seem to belong to it (35). The 
capitals above (34) are much more in keeping 




with the other letters than those on this page (35) ; 
but really satisfactory capitals to go with black 
letter have never been, and are perhaps not to be, 
designed. This is a matter of less practical im- 
portance to us, seeing that the days of that 
particular character are, except for occasional 
purposes, already passed. 

There is no reason why grounding out should 
not more often be employed in stone or marble 
when the scale allows it ; it is employed to ad- 
mirable effect in the wooden pew-end opposite 
(36), and in the inscriptions upon the much 
earlier doors of the cathedral at Le Puy (39). 

Small lettering is more naturally cut into 
stone, as the cuneiform and Greek and Roman 


inscriptions invariably were. In the little Byzan- 
tine iron shield at the end of the chapter (37) the 
incised lettering is filled in with silver. Between 
sunken letters 
and letters in re- 
lief, the choice 
is determined 
partly by the 
as to which is 
the easier to do, 
partly by which 
will be the more 
secure from in- 
jury; when nei- 
ther would be 
difficult and 
either would be 
safe, it becomes 
a question mere- 
ly of effect. The 
lasting charac- 
ter of lettering 
on a sunken 

ground, in metal, is witnessed by numberless 
mediaeval monumental brasses, in which the 
decorative use of lettering is shown trium- 
phantly. We have only to compare these with 
the tombstones of a later date to see how 
monumental lettering may be used to artistic 
and to ineffective purpose. Which of the two it 







might be, was in the past very much a question of 
period: engravers of the seventeenth and eighteenth 
and especially the nineteenth centuries fell on evil 
days for design : with us it is a question of taste. 
We have lost hold of tradition, but we have freer 
choice ; and out of our eclecticism, may I call it, 
better things should come — if we but take the 
pains to inform ourselves. The work of a man 
who knows what master workmen before him 
have done, must needs be better than anything 
he could spin out of his own ignorant imagining. 




Many and various were the methods of intro- 
ducing inscription into decorative design. It 
found its way even into picture, until the time 
when the pictorial ideal ceased to include decora- 
tive effect. Long inscriptions claimed for them- 
selves, as a rule, a place apart ; shorter ones were 
used sometimes to frame the picture, sometimes 
to form part of it. 

In introducing lettering into decoration, people 
accustomed to write in horizontal lines from left 
to right naturally adopted that direction. They 
might occasionally be led by considerations of 
design to scheme an inscription otherwise ; but, 
in the main, decorative lettering takes the hori- 
zontal direction. Such, in fact, is the decorative 


use of some such horizontal band as lettering 
gives, that one is inclined to suspect that in- 
scriptions have often been introduced into design 
quite as much for the line they gave as for the 
information it was desired to convey in them. 

About the earliest and most uncompromising use 
of inscription that we know of is seen in the well- 
known bas-reliefs from Nineveh (eighth and ninth 
centuries B.C.), in which broad belts of cuneiform 
lettering deliberately cross the picture in a way 
which, brutal as in a sense it must be called, is 
not sheer brutality, so useful is it in the com- 
position, and so little hurt is there to broadly 
conventional sculpture of that kind in a treatment 
which, applied to more delicate workmanship, 
would be downright cruel. We find indeed some- 
thing of the same kind in quite late Gothic 
tapestry and wall-painting, where the names of 
the personages represented are sometimes written 
straight across their drapery. 

The gentler treatment is to write only upon the 
background to the figures, where the horizontal 
bands or belts of lettering are of use in crossing 
narrow upright spaces between the figures or 
between the figure and its frame, and in binding 
the parts of the composition into one. 

Another use to which bands of inscription are 
commonly put is to separate tiers of small picture 
panels one from the other, as, for example, in the 
narrow lights of tall Gothic windows, which they 
hold together in a most satisfactory manner. A 

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very pronounced use of bands of lettering to sepa- 
rate little figure subjects is made in the doors of the 
cathedral at Le Puy, of which a portion is illus- 
trated (39). The lettering there is on a pro- 
portionately very large and important scale ; but 
it holds its own perfectly both with the ornamental 
borders and with the figure subjects. The carving 
is of the simplest kind, mere flat "grounding out," 
but the effect is singularly rich ; and certainly not 
the least interesting part of the design, when you 
examine it in detail, is the lettering. It proves to 
be Latin hexameters, explanatory, of course, of the 
incidents depicted, running right across the four 
divisions of the doors. The upright post between 
the two doors (to the right of the illustration), 
shows another use of lettering. Clearly, where all 
about it was so full of pattern, that called out for 
enrichment. Why should not the carver make 
use of it to sign his name ? And who is not 
grateful to Master Godfrey for the w T ay he has 
done it ? He could hardly have devised ornament 
more effective or more fitting. 

There is no need to multiply instances of 
pictures kept apart by interspaces of lettering. 
The mediaeval decorator delighted in a multitude 
of little figure groups, and he knew no better way 
than this of separating them — nor do we for that 
matter, though nowadays we are not so fond of 

It is no uncommon thing to find in one and the 
same mediaeval composition inscriptions treated 


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in a variety of ways. The designer had the wit 
at the same time to diversify his design and to 
make his meaning as explicit as might be — after 
all, words are the most explicit form in which to 
convey it — and he succeeded in making them 
subserve an artistic purpose also (40). There 
is a Flemish tapestry at the Victoria and Albert 
Museum representing the Seven Deadly Sins 
(1485 — 1520), in which the names of Jeremiah, 
Justice, Pity, etc., are written across their bodies, 
whilst the words of the prophet occupy a scroll. 

It is a rather important point in design that in 
a single composition different forms of inscription 
should be adopted only to convey different kinds 
of information ; and that, vice versa, different 
kinds of information should be conveyed in dif- 
ferent ways. What is necessary to intelligibility 
may be made so, to contribute to decorative effect. 

Of old it did not occur to the writer to intro- 
duce all manners of writing into his design ; he 
confined himself habitually to one form of letter, 
varying perhaps in scale, or in the manner of its 
rendering, but in its main lines the same through- 
out — for the simple reason, it may be, that no other 
was familiar to him. To-day we turn our know- 
ledge of many types to the worst possible account 
in mixing them together. Our scraps of know- 
ledge lead us continually into danger. It is often 
desirable, and even necessary, to make . some 
words stand forth in a design, and others to 
shrink back; it is the business of a designer to give 


such words as he may introduce their due and 
precise value, to make some perhaps larger than 
others, some more solid, to reduce certain of them 
to relative insignificance ; but reason and art alike 
demand that all should be in one handwriting. 

Natural as it is to write from left to right, and 
useful as cross bands of lettering are in counter- 
acting the upright lines in figure composition, the 


artist has always felt himself free to depart from 
the usual practice when that did not suit his 
purpose. If he had no need of any definite line, 
he preferred perhaps merely to break the surface 
of the background with quite irregular lettering. 
He made bold, if need w r ere, to place the letters of 
the words in vertical instead of horizontal order, or 
to scatter them about the ground more in the form 
of a diaper; perhaps he preferred to write them on 
a tablet or a scroll (41) designed to receive them, 


or to introduce them into the details of the picture 
itself. The nimbus of a saint was, for example, so 
convenient to his hand, that it seems almost as if 
it must have been designed to be inscribed with 
his name. The mere writing of the letters in a 
ring round his head was enough to indicate a halo. 


A device employed in tapestries and stained glass 
windows was to introduce the name of a personage 
in the hem or border of his garment, or as a 
pattern in the stuff, as though it had been woven 
in it or embroidered on it ; but the limits of that 
kind of thing are soon reached. 

The horizontal band, so common on flat sur- 
faces, becomes, in the case of a vessel circular in 
plan, a belt of inscription, very valuable always in 

l.o. F 


emphasising the roundness of a vase, and some- 
times in correcting its proportions. Quite rude 
instances of this occur in the mugs and other 
common earthen pots decorated in "slip" after a 
Staffordshire fashion of the end of the seventeenth 
century (43). More refined examples occur in old 
Greek vases ; but there the inscriptions are so deli- 
cate that, reduced to the scale of our illustrations, 
they would hardly be seen. They are, in fact, so 
inconspicuous that, but for the fact (pointed out to 
me by Mr. Cecil Smith) that they occupy a position 
of honour in the scheme of Greek vase painting, 
one might take them to be an afterthought of the 

The lip, the neck, the shoulder of a vase may 
each in turn conveniently be decorated in this way, 
the words engraved on silver, painted on pottery, 
enamelled on glass. Successive rings of letter- 
ing, with or without other ornament between, 
make excellent decoration, which, as the 
wording is never seen all at once, does not 
assert its meaning. The Hispano- Moresque 
potters frequently introduced bands of mock 
Arabic inscription into their lustred earthenware, 
preferring, it is said, not to profane the name 
of the Prophet by putting it upon the infidel 
market. They also hashed up into ornament the 
Roman and Gothic character, not perhaps know- 
ing the havoc they were working with its sense. 
The practice speaks for the value of lettering in 
ornament ; but it does not justify mock inscrip- 


F 2 


tion, for which there is no honest place in decora- 
tion. If something like lettering is wanted where 
there is a reason why real words should not be 
used, it should be within the power of an artist to 
design ornament having nearly enough the value 
of lettering without ever making any pretence to 
be inscription. 

Lettering makes a very good border — not merely 
in connection with ornament, though there is scope 
for that too in very broad borders, but by itself, 
as may be seen in many a grave slab (42) and 
old brass, where it frames a monumental effigy or 
heraldic device as effectively as any pattern would 
do. The letters make, in fact, pattern enough, 
excellent and appropriate in proportion to its 
severity. The formality and rigidity of letters 
make for that steadiness which is so desirable 
in a border ; the parallel upright strokes of 
Gothic black-letter, of which an orientalised 
version is given (44), fulfil very much the 
same purpose as the rectangular lines of a Greek 
fret ; but it is seldom that lettering comes amiss. 
The one objection to a border of lettering is, the 
difficulty there is likely to be in reading it from one 
position. That, however, does not apply to brasses 
and tombstones which you can walk round, or to a 
thing like a book cover, which you take in your 
hand and turn about. Moreover, the difficulty is in 
great measure got over, say in the case of a door, 
by making the inscription run uninterruptedly 
round only three sides of the thing, and on the 



fourth (or bottom border) making it read as in the 
top one. This is seen in a portion of an iron door 
from the cathedral at Toledo (45). 

In a circular disc, where the ring of inscription 
is precisely analogous to the rectangular frame 
to a slab, the lettering naturally follows round, 
in case the thing is small enough to be handled. 
In case it is not, the difficulty of changing the 
direction is not always very happily managed, 


as may be seen in the mark of Alfonso the 
Wise (19) ; nevertheless the lettering in it is good. 
For coins, seals, medals and so forth, lettering 
proves to be the absolutely perfect border. 
Enclosed within marginal lines or without them, 
incised or in relief, singly or in double row, it 
frames the portrait or the coat of arms effectively, 
giving weight to the design just where it is wanted. 
Not the least serviceable use of it is where it 
is made to pass, as it were, behind the image, 
forming something between a border and a back- 
ground to it. Boldly used it never comes amiss. 
It is only the mean lettering of an artist who does 
not value it, would rather not use it, and is in fact 


half afraid of it, that is uninteresting. The great 
medallists who have given it the importance it 
deserves have never had cause to repent it. 

For all the value of the ring of inscription on a 


coin or medal, the scope of the designer does not 
end there : that is one way of doing it, but not the 
only one. It is the hard and fast rule we have 
adopted in modern days ; but the Greeks, who 
were our masters in art, and the medallists of the 
Renaissance, knew better than to act on any one 


mechanical idea. The Greeks, it will be seen 
(46, 47), wrote the inscription across the coin, 
or in an upright line, or in two such lines, 


or in one horizontal line (as a base for the 
figure), and lines at the two sides of the coin, 
and even in four straight lines giving a square 
within the circle. Framed in double lines of 
inscription (47) the figure is, as it were, set in 


a diaper of lettering. Other devices are where 
the ground between the symbolic creature and its 
encircling wreath is diapered with lettering (47), 
where the inscription is confined to a rectangular 


frame within the circle, and where single letters 
are used to balance the composition (46) — and all 
this during the finest period of design. Another 
beautiful use of single letters is seen in the ivory 
carving of a later period (38). 

The medallists of the Renaissance, as well as 


the Greeks, often wrote inscriptions across the 
background to a portrait head (48, 49). A second 
ring of incised lettering, within the outer band 
in relief (50), is a convenient means of occupying 
the field of a medal without either confusing two 
separate inscriptions or calling undue attention 
to the less important of them. 

Some modern medallists make good and charac- 
teristic use of lettering, but they employ sometimes 
too much of it to keep it bold enough. Its pro- 
portion in the design of so small a thing as a 
coin or medal is all-important. The temptation 
appears to be to make it too small ; but it seems 
to have been the constant endeavour of the great 
medallists to keep it as large as possible. 



A device from which very happy effects of 
decoration have resulted is that of a label, scroll, 
or ribbon, to bear an inscription. It is a means 
at once of giving dis- 
tinction to it and of 
introducing into the com- 
position lines invariably 

Its origin is not far to 
seek. A strip of parch- 
ment made a convenient 
ticket on which to write 
a name or description. 
Such labels must often 
have been attached to 
things upon which they 
were more or less a dis- 
figurement. The artist 
naturally preferred to 

paint, or carve, or weave, his own label ; and it 
seemed to him to give actuality to the thing if 
he represented also the buckling and the curling 
over of the ends of parchment, an accident sure 
to occur to it in the end. When he found that the 


7 6 

turning over of the ends led to a characteristic 
form of ornament, he naturally developed the idea; 
and so we get the ornamental label, severe at first, 
eventually, as taste became more florid, twisting 
about in the most fantastic fashion. It takes, 
finally, the fluttering form of ribbon; but the effect 
was happier when it was less flimsily conceived, in 
the likeness, that is to say, of more robust strapwork. 

Labels of the squarer ticket-like shape were often 
represented as if attached by pins to the surface of 
the thing they adorned. Longer and more strip- 
like labels were invariably turned over or curled 
up at the ends ; sometimes the ends were first split 
and then so treated. The twisting and twirling 
of the label itself was an affair partly of the reign- 
ing fashion of the day (severe in the thirteenth 
century, florid in the fifteenth), partly of the 
function of the particular label in question : it 
might not allow much scope for fancy, or, on the 
other hand, it might almost demand to be turned 
into ornament. 

The label is seen in its simplest form on the drug 
vases of the Italian majolica painters, just a band 
of bold inscription between two lines which, upon 
examination, turn out to be the edges of a simple 
label, the indelible, and, at the same time, orna- 
mental, substitute for the common parchment 
ticket. The broad horizontal bands, also, which 
separate the subjects in a fourteenth or fifteenth 
century stained glass window, suggest the parch- 



ment scroll ; and so do the phylacteries in the 
hands of prophets and others, though these are 



made also to take a form more deliberately orna- 
mental, in order to occupy the background, or 
conveniently to cross the body of the figure. 

The sculptured figure from the wonderful 
church at Albi (52) is one of a series of prophets 
holding each his label, which both crosses the 
figure and occupies the background. It need 
hardly be pointed out how useful the line of the 
scroll is in the composition of the panel, and how 
well it contrasts with the name of the prophet 
horizontally incised in bolder lettering on the flat 
background in a line with his head. A commoner 
and more conventional form of label is that on 
the first page of this chapter (51). Such a label 
was planned to occupy the space about the head 
of the saint, descending in front of him ; the turn- 
over at the end was grasped in his hand. A similar 
but more elaborate use of the label occurs in four- 
teenth century tapestry, where it is seen curling 
about the heads of the personages, making quite a 
pattern in the upper part of the picture, or per- 
haps (54) all over the background. Labels, together 


with initial letters, are cleverly introduced into 
design more purely ornamental in an ivory reading 
desk of the sixteenth century (53), where they 
greatly help to balance the design. 

The use of the label as a repeated form in 
ornament is not so common ; but it is sometimes 
effectively used, as in the tracery of a window, 



where it often makes a most appropriate accom- 
paniment to some central shield of arms. It is 
used also, for the sake of the meandering line 
given by its recurring form, in the broad borders 
of engraved brasses and applique embroidery. 
At times, too, other short contrasting scrolls 


cross it at intervals, at an angle calculated to 
steady the flow of the foliage. 

The label is employed sometimes in coins, 
medals, and the like, but without so much reason. 
There is rarely need for it or room for it ; the 
available space is better given to the lettering 
itself. It is happier as the border of corporation 


or other important seals, and in medallions of 
larger dimensions it forms often a useful feature, 
the ends, as they turn about, satisfactorily occupy- 
ing the vacant ground. They are made even to fill 
it with their flourishing, as in the rather typical 


examples of Italian majolica illustrated (55 and 56), 
in which the twisting of the label is a little 
too obviously designed to fill up. It is, no 
doubt, one very valuable use of the twisted 
scroll, that it does fill up a space ; but it ought 
not to strike one at a glance as devised merely 
with that end. In so doing it confesses itself too 

L.O. G 


plainly a makeshift. There is less danger of betrayal 
when it is cunningly contrived to bear just the 
words wanted, and just as they should come ; 
which is hardly the case in these Gubbio plaques, 
in both of which the label is, in fact, better suited 
to the inscription of two words than of one. The 
fact is, the label asks rather more conscientious 
design than we must expect from the Italians of 
the Cinque Cento. 

It was said above that enclosing shapes should 
be designed with a view to the lettering to be 
inscribed upon them ; and this applies with 
especial force to the label, which should be 
schemed to accommodate the words upon it. 
In fact, the position of the words needs first 
to be planned and the label designed to take 
them. Given an existing space, it is the business 
of the artist to fit his design to it ; but no practical 
designer would of his own accord first twist about 
a label and then begin to consider how best he 
could arrange the words within its lines. As well 
choose a canvas irrespective of the picture to be 
painted on it. The lettering is here the picture, 
so to speak, and the label but the canvas for it ; 
and, however fanciful its convolutions, they should 
be so contrived as to accommodate, not merely 
so much wording, but such and such words in the 
order of their reading. 

The question occurs as to the way the lettering 
ought to run. Should it conscientiously follow 


G 2 


the course of the label ? should it be confined to 
one side of the label ? should it be hidden where 
the label dives behind an overlap or disappears 
behind the figure ? Naturally it should do all 
three ; but the ends of art are not so easily achieved. 
An inscription strictly following the course of the 
label would, if that happened to turn upon itself, 
as well it might, be seen lying sometimes on its 
back and read from right to left, and so be 
difficult to follow ; at times it would be lost to 
sight under a fold, and not be readable at all. 
Only in the case of words designedly disguised, or 
so familiar that from one or two of them we guess 
the rest, can the artist safely let lettering stand 
upon its head or disappear from view. He is 
compelled, therefore, if he wishes to be intelligible, 
to treat his label, not as an inscribed band twisted 
into ornamental shape, but as a band first twisted 
into shape and then inscribed with the desired 
words so that they can be seen and read. He 
has, in fact, frankly to accept the label as a con- 
vention, and not pretend that it is a real scroll. 
Realistic representation may at times be possible ; 
some may think it desirable ; but in any case it 
does not go far towards meeting the conditions of 
ornamental design. 

Accepting the label, however, as a convention, 
a game of ornament, it is part of the strict game 
to confine the writing to one side of it, and, by 
rights, to follow its course. The artist has the 



determining of its direction ; it is his business to 
compel it into the way it should go. You may tell 
a good workman by the conscientiousness with 
which he keeps to the face of the ribbon and 
follows the flow of its convolutions. It is easier, 
no doubt, to ignore all such considerations, and 
write haphazard ; but that is a poor excuse for 
not playing fair. 

In effect the artist designs his label and on the 
visible parts of it he inscribes his words ; what he 
does in fact is, to plot and place his words, and 
about them to devise a label. They give him 
certain short lengths of scroll, which he accepts, 
trusting to his invention to find lines which will 
supply the necessary continuity. Should he fail 
in that, he tries the words in different order. In 
the tailpiece to this chapter (60) the artist has 


planned the label bearing the words, "All nations," 
better than that inscribed " in-dus-try." An in- 
genious designer seldom finds himself compelled 
to break up his inscription awkwardly ; he does 
not, for example, introduce a fold in the middle of 
a word ; rather he reserves the fold to mark a 
break in the wording. He is careful to avoid the 
impression that his lettering was in any sense an 
afterthought. He designs the label for the words ; 
and design is, literally, forethought. 

It is not pretended that labels have always been 
scrupulously designed. Artists even who ought to 
have known better have before now shirked the 
difficulty of design, in so far discounting the merit 
of otherwise masterly work. It will be seen 
that the robust designs of Hans Sebald Beham 
are not in this respect above reproach ; in the 
one case (58) the letters flow evenly on, but are 
written upon both sides of the label ; in the other 
(57) the words do not follow the direction of 
the label. 

The Germans of the early sixteenth century made 
extraordinary use of the label in their design, more 
particularly in association with heraldry, and, to a 
man almost, designed it, as they did their mantling, 
with unfailing vigour and effect. A curious and 
perhaps unique instance of the length to which, 
already in the fifteenth century, they carried the 
device occurs in a carpet in the Victoria and 
Albert Museum, a portion of which is illustrated 


below (59). The ornament consists almost entirely 
of inscription. The main lines of the design are 
bands of lettering. They outline the border, they 
give the central medallion, and the big circular 


band, which is the main feature of the plan. The 
arches of the niches under which the figures stand 
are inscribed, and lettered labels occupy the 
background behind them ; the figures in the 
spandrils bear parti-coloured labels as conspicuous 

as themselves. To such an extent does the artist 

rely upon this one device for his ornament, that, 

but for variety of colour in the scheme, the effect 

would have been mechanical. The labels and the 

letters on them are coloured in the most arbitrary 

fashion, with a view to colour combination and 

not to the division of the words, except in so far 

as it was the idea purposely to confuse them and 

prevent them from staring out of the carpet. 

This is not playing the game according to the 

rules laid down ; but at least the artist makes no 

pretence of doing so. He makes bold to start a 

game of his own, a game in which a label may 

change suddenly and incontinently from one 

colour to another, and the colour of the letters 

too. At all events the inconsistency of the colour 

scheme is followed through with a consistency 

compelling you to realize that there is here no 

evasion of the problem of design but a deliberate 

device to disturb the monotony of wording 

which would otherwise insist too much upon your 

reading it. In just such a spirit the old Hispano- 

Moresque potter would break up the invocation 

within the border of a plaque thus : AVE.MA.RIA. 

GRA.PLE.NA., to give at least variety of form 

to words familiar to the point of wearisomeness. 

The label is a device to bear lettering ; and here 

i fc> ' 

again the vertical lines of black letter seem, as it 
were, made to go with-it ; but, Gothic or Roman, 
or whatever the character of the lettering, it 

8 9 

should be upright ; the effect of slanting letters or 
italics on it is never happy. 

Instances are to be found of labels bearing 
no inscription ; and they would make satisfactory 
ornament, were it not that, by association of 
ideas, they inevitably suggest the want of lettering. 
Their use, however, in this way is proof of the 
ornamental value of the label. 




It has been contended in these pages that, 
though the first and usual purpose of lettering is 
that it shall be read with ease, there are occasions 
when easy reading is of secondary consequence (so 
long as it is readable enough), and that the more 
important consideration is decorative propriety. 
It is further maintained that its very legibility 
may under certain circumstances be endangered, 
and more than endangered, in the cause of 
ornament. Plain reading is by no means the 
invariable purpose of lettering in ornament, and 
it is a mistake to suppose that it ought always to 
be read at sight, or readable at all, except to 
those whom it may concern. It may be intro- 
duced only for the satisfaction of those who have 
the key to its meaning — in which case all that the 
outside world has a right to ask is that it shall be 
ornamental. On the other hand, a sign or symbol 
which is a blot upon the design is indefensible 
from the standpoint of art. 



There are times when wording may be intro- 
duced into design with the deliberate purpose of 
escaping too ready detection, perhaps of mysti- 
fying. A truthful man is not bound to blurt out 
everything ; there are moments when it is wiser 
only to suggest. Art is not advertisement. 

Instances innumerable occur in which the mean- 
ing of the words an artist may introduce into his 
design ought not to be obvious, when it would be 
nothing short of an offence if they were too plainly 
readable. This is especially the case where a 
sentiment is conveyed in them ; we do not shout 
our sentiments from the housetop ; and the more 
tender the sentiment conveyed in the words, the 
more becoming it is that they should be spoken 
under the breath. 

A certain mystery about the wording of a senti- 
ment is of the very essence of its tenderness. If 
upon the marriage chest of old the carver inter- 
twined the names of bride and bridegroom (62), 
if upon a bridesmaid's locket the goldsmith of to- 
day enamels the initials of the pair, if the one sees 

9 2 

lit to introduce into his carving the other into 
his enamelling a pious wish, a prayer for their 
happiness, would he, being a man of delicate 
feeling, so shape the letters that who ran might 
read ? Would he not in his discretion preferably 
reduce them to ornament which, though decipher- 
able to those concerned, did not advertise an 
intimate thought or feeling to the world ? It often 
happens that the right thing, and the only thing 
to do, is to express what we have to say so reticently 

that, whilst the few for 
whom it is written will be 
sure to catch the meaning, 
the attention of the rest 
of the world shall not be 
called to it. We do not 
by preference play love 
tunes on a trumpet. 

The name of Allah 
figures largely in Moresque 
ornament, variously writ- 
ten. Precisely what 
liberty the artists took 
with the Arabic character, 
I do not know ; but they 
could hardly take too much. 
There seems to be a sort 


of reverence in veiling the 

name of the deity, and there is little likelihood of its 
being misunderstood. Would any pious Christian 



miss the meaning of the words upon the scroll 
ingeniously composed to occupy the background to 
a picture of the Annunciation ? One reads them 
by anticipation, and they may safely therefore be 
reduced to a form which in itself would not be 
easy to decipher. There is little difficulty in 
following even the most intricate of ornamental 
lettering when the very position of the words 
puts the reader on the track of their meaning. 
That, of course, is the justification of inscriptions 
such as that at the head of this chapter (61) ; 
elsewhere it might be unreadable, occurring where 
it does in the Gospels, it explains itself at a glance, 
SECUNDUM LUCAM. The use of the words 
is little more than a formality ; they might almost 
be "taken as read." 

The desirability of not clearly stating a meaning, 


still less of emphasising it, gives rise to the use of 
single letters only hinting at it (63). Even then 
the letter need not stand revealed in the naked form 
of the familiar alphabet. The florid initials upon 
the facade of the chateau at Blois make more satis- 
factory ornament than the bald N which figured 
upon the walls of public buildings in Paris in the 
time of Napoleon the Third : there was about that 
an air of advertisement in harmony only with the 
cheapest form of Imperialism. The F of Francois I er< 
was put to all manner of decorative purposes. The 
crowned F in the form of a bolt-plate (64) is just 
a little too self-assertive. Better for all purposes 
than the simple initial was the cypher, commonly 
used by Henri II., or the monogram — to which 
a chapter by itself is devoted. 

Enough has been said to account for the 
meaning of lettering being hidden by the artist. 
The ways of hiding it are many. The letters 
themselves may be so playfully treated as to be 
disguised ; they may be intricately interlaced, 
they may branch out into confusing ornament, or 
be half hidden in scrollery intertwined with it. 

In the case of the cunningly designed initial 
page from Mr. Walter Crane's " Book of Wedding 
Days" (65), the June roses grow from thorny 
stems which spell the name of the month, half lost 
in leaves and further hidden by the cupid errant 
with his shield. A much simpler growth of 
ornamental lines is enough to transform words 


into ornament out of which 
meaning emerges as you look. 

In the masterly design of Israel 
van Meckenen (66), the letters 
of his name, Israel M, are delibe- 
rately designed to look like scroll- 
work merely, in which a casual 
observer would not suspect there 
lurked a meaning. They form, it 
will be seen, a fine panel of florid 
ornament, satisfactory decoration 
apart from the significance of the 
lines on which it grows. The con- 
fusion, more or less, that may result 
from interlacing letters not in them- 
selves very fantastic, is seen in the 
renderings of the word PROPHET 
(76, 78). Where two separate 
words are interlaced (62), the 
disguise is naturally more complete, each, as 



it were, entangling the sense of the other. By 
merely taking liberties with the letters themselves 
(to some extent necessitated in order to adapt them 
to fretwork in ivory) the Portuguese artist respon- 
sible for the cabinet in the Cluny Museum from 
which the words AUDEO-SPERO (131) are taken 
has brought them to the desired condition of orna- 
ment which does not thrust its meaning on you. 

A simple means of preventing words from 
staring at you is, to break the continuity of the 
letters by colouring them arbitrarily, as was done 
in early Saxon manuscripts. The obtrusiveness 
of individual letters may be guarded against 
in a similar way by breaking them into parti- 
colour, so that the forms which strike the eye 
are only parts of letters, and do not insist upon 
the fact that they have a meaning. The particular 
character employed in the old German embroidery 
from which the letters overleaf (67) are taken, 
seems to us at this date hardly to necessitate 
further removal from the obvious ; but the needle- 
woman evidently meant to make sure they should 
not be too evident ; and she not merely confused 
them with ornamental foliation and tendrils, but 
rendered them in colours which may be said to 
blur any possible distinctness of statement con- 
veyed in them. Severer forms of letters might 
with even more reason be treated in the same 
way and so reduced to ornament. The sculptor or 
modeller may arrive at a similar result by varying 




k^6 fa 


the relief and the texture of his letters instead of 
the colour. 

The fringe of cloisoned letters dependant from 
the seventh century Visigothic crown (68) is a 
singularly happy device ; barbaric it may be, but 
admirably ornamental. This is a votive crown, it 
will be understood, designed to be hung up before 
a shrine, not worn on the head. It was dug up in 
the neighbourhood of Toledo, and one seems to 
trace in it the influence of Saracenic ingenuity in 
ornamental device. By no possible chance could 
the name of the donor, RECCESSVINTHUS, 
intrude itself. It is there by way of record : to 
the casual observer it is ornament. 

The degree of illegibility permissible in orna- 
mental lettering is determined only by the purpose 
of it. What is meant to be hidden may well lie hid 
from all but those who have the key of the mystery. 
Even where the secret is an open one, there may 
be a charm in the mystery in which it is wrapped. 
If it is a riddle, we have a right to expect it to be 
possible of solution. If it is meant to be readable, 
it should not puzzle us beyond measure. It is 


annoying to suspect, as we cannot help suspect- 
ing, that the designer meant us to unriddle many 


a seventeenth and eighteenth century cypher, 
which after all our pains remains to us a 
mystery. The handsome panel from a cabinet in 
the Victoria and Albert Museum (105) has all the 

H 2 


6g. merchant's mark. 

air of telling us more than 
it does. Was that the 
intention of the carver, 
or was it not ? 

A printer's or a mer- 
chant's mark (69, 70) is 
often built up of lettering 
not easy to read; and it 
need not be readable; it 
is his sign, known to be 
such ; and that is enough. 
So, too, a stamp, such as 
that of Domitian, which 
forms the tailpiece to this 
chapter (79), might well be 
less easy to read than it 

is, and yet perfectly fulfil its function. 

We have no means of knowing with what degree 

of clearness the meaning is 

expressed in writing which 

we do not understand. All 

the unlearned can say of 

the Icelandic (71), the Sla- 
vonic (72, y$), the Chinese, 

the Arab, or other to them 

strange character, is that 

it is most satisfactory as 

ornament ; and the fact 

that, as such, it interests 70> MERCHANT ' S MARKi 

them, speaks eloquently for c.e.g. 


the decorative use made of it. Possibly 
it would strike us as less entirely 
ornamental if we could read it ; we 
find it perhaps all the more ornamental 
because it cannot intrude upon our 
ignorance ; but there is no doubt 
whatever of its being ornamentally 

It seems certain, too, that the 
Eastern artist was allowed an enviable 
liberty of rendering, which enabled 
him to reach something like the per- 
fection of lettering in ornament. The 
short and seemingly simple inscrip- 
tion on the Persian mirror back (74) 
is not to be read right off. Even an 
accomplished Orientalist takes his 
time to puzzle out the words, 
" O, thou satisfier of wants." The 
writing of the Arabs is, of itself, 
enough to show that they were not 
often in a hurry. In the use of it in 
ornament they took it for granted 
that the reader would be more than 
leisurely. Prohibited by the laws of 
the Prophet from picturing God's 
creatures, and desiring, after the 
manner of mankind, to say something 71. Icelandic 
in their design, they indulged pro- mangling im- 
fusely in inscription ; and their natural ple ment. 



;y victor 

ingenuity and ornamental instinct not being 
hampered by any popular prejudice against free 
and fanciful treatment of the alphabet, they did 
marvels in the way of beautiful design, more ela- 
borate it is true than is our Western wont, but 
undeniably the work of masters in their art (74). 

Lettering forms one of the most striking features 
in what we call Arab art. We find it in the lustred 
tiles, the enamelled glass, the fretted brass of the 
Persians ; in the plaster-work of the Alhambra 
and other buildings of the Moors in Spain ; in the 
wood-carving of the Tunisians ; in the embroidery 
of the Turks ; in Saracenic silk-weaving ; in 
illuminated copies of the Koran ; throughout, 
in fact, the whole range of Mohammedan design. 
The power of the artist is shown in the perfect 




ease of his treatment: he can play with it; and 
yet, for all his playfulness, it never degenerates 
into frivolity. He reduced to ornament even 
the early monumental chisel -cut character, the 
rigid and angular " Cufic," not very much like 
lettering to us, except that by its very strangeness 


we are led to suspect a meaning in it ; but his real 
opportunity came with the introduction of the 
suaver cursive hand (ca. 1000), whose sweeping 
lines suggest, however executed, the stroke of the 
original pen ; and he seized upon it. It is in 
this Neskhi character that his triumphs in 
decorative writing have been achieved. 



There is clearly not anything like the same 
elasticity in Roman or Gothic lettering as in 
Arab, nor have we the mastery of those Eastern 
ornamentists over the signs and symbols with 
which we have to deal ; but the lesson of their 
work ought not to be entirely lost upon us ; and 
it would be interesting to see what we could do 
in emulation of their manner. The result would 
probably not meet with popular approval ; but it 
might be well worth the pains ; and in particular 
we might learn the way to hide a meaning in our 



ornament, and to hide it just as effectually as 

seemed good to us — to 

screen it, if need be, 

from all but sympathetic 

observation. The few 

experiments here given 

(75, 76, 78) do not, in 

the least, pretend to 

show what is to be done 

in this way: they are 

but a beginning, an 




indication, merely, of the direction in which 
experiment might be worth making. 

Something, too, is to be learnt from the severely 
square-cut Chinese character (yj), as well as from 
their freer brush-writing (the two styles have 
analogies with the Cufic and Neskhi respectively), 
and from other script, which, in proportion as 
we do not understand a word of it, we can judge 
without bias as ornament. 

Our Western temperament puts us at some dis- 
advantage. We are a matter-of-fact people, and 
the practical view we take of lettering hinders us 
from making full use of it in ornament. Our 
attitude towards the alphabet is somewhat too 
respectful. If we could bring ourselves to play 
with letters we might easily reduce them to 
ornament. The first step is to believe in the 
possibilities of lettering: only in that faith is art 




We are to a great extent debarred from the use 
of contractions, which, obvious as they must have 
been to monkish readers, to whom mediaeval 
writing was addressed, are enough to scare a 
modern one from the very attempt to decipher 
old manuscripts abounding with them. But 
there is no such undeniable objection to the 
mere conjoining of letters in the old way. 

A certain amount even of complication might be 
excused, where the writer did not wish to be too 
plain, or had a right to expact the reader would 
anticipate the word. There are cases without 
number in which it is clear from the first word or 
two of an inscription what is to follow. It may 


safely be taken for granted that the faithful will 
not want to read through the Crede, the Ave, or 
the Lord's Prayer. There is no need to spell 
out every word of a familiar quotation ; and 
if there were, there it is, though not as plain as 
print. Any hardship the reader might suffer from 
the conjunction, here and there, of letters other- 
wise awkward to manage, would be as nothing to 
the convenience it would be to the designer, who, 
as it is, is tied by popular prejudice as never ancient 
writer was fettered. But there is not necessarily 
any confusion resulting from conjoined letters. 
The wording on the doors of Le Puy (81), in 
which it is carried to most interesting excess, is, 
it is true, only with difficulty to be deciphered — 
which may be said also of the Gothic inscription 
from a Flemish brass (82) ; but the compound 
letters add no little to its variety, and were pre- 
sumably not difficult to read at the time they were 
written. It is mainly the misplaced satisfaction of 
the Philistine with printed type which inclines him 
to resent the liberties a writer is naturally tempted 
to take with forms the printer has stereotyped. 

Time was when even printers were not averse to 
combined letters (accustomed as folk were to them 
in MS.), but the diphthong and the ampersand alone 
survive, and that mainly in the form of &c. This 
particular sign was never at the best of much artistic 
use — it does not range with the line for one thing — 
but why not simply join the letters ? We have only 









^1§^ il^Mkll 




if mm? W o 

82. FROM A 

to let the two upright strokes of the N form on 
the one side part of the A, and on the other part 
of the D (84), and we have a perfect monogram 
which, moreover, acknowledges by its contrac- 
tion the comparative insignificance of the word. 
At all events a writer is free to indulge in any such 
monogrammic device which does not interfere with 
the legibility at which he aims ; whatever helps the 
artist in spacing his letters is to the good. There 
is no occasion to keep sacred the separate identity 



»S ttXX Cjt>TO 


of each particular letter ; and in this particular 
instance, at least, there is no mistaking the letters. 
Again, if we may use A.D. for Anno Domini, why 
not make a monogram of the letters (84), or 
join the double N in ANNO (84) ? The com- 
pound letter is not difficult to read in that con- 
nection. These and similar devices (83, 84) 
were all once freely in use. 

It is an axiom of design that the method of 
workmanship employed should be, not only 



confessed, but turned if possible to characteristic 
account. What though the monotony of hard and 
fast form is inseparable from a page set up in type ? 
The penman, painter, carver, engraver, or other 
craftsman claims that he, for his part, shall be 
allowed to show, by deviation from the fixed forms 
of printed type, he has used his brains about his 
work ; and his just claim is not invalidated by the 
incompetence of this scribe or the affectation of 
that. The word engraved within the wreath, 
from a piece of old Roman silversmith's work, 
opposite (85), was probably meant to tell no more 
than it does. 

/TD /D A mo 



Popular prejudice against any individuality in 
the rendering of familiar signs comes of their very 
familiarity. The ideal of the unthinking is the 
letterpress they know so well. They forget that 
type is but a stiff rendering of the written 
character, and that it is at best a most degraded 
form of print they peruse in the cheap edition 
or the daily paper which is their standard of 






The use of conjoined letters and contractions 
leads immediately to the design of the Monogram 
— which is in fact neither more nor less than a 
contraction — two or more letters writ in one. 

A monogram is a compound letter, or, as its 
name implies, the combination in one sign (simple 
or complex) of two or more letters no longer 
separate. Whether the letters form, as in the 
beginning they apparently did, the first letters 
of a word (XP for XPI2T02), or whether they are 
the initials of a man's several names, as is the 
more common use nowadays, does not matter, 
nor whether they are used as badge, symbol, or 
trade-mark ; the point is that it is one sign 
conveying the significance of several letters. 

In a monogram, rightly so called, there is no 
letter which does not form part of another (8j). 
This is not generally understood, or we should not 





commonly hear the interlacing of any two or 
three letters described as a monogram. The 
interlacing I.H.S., for example, whether we read 
the letters to signify Jesus Hominum Salvator 
or IH20Y3, are not properly called the sacred 
monogram, nor the intertwining A and fi, nor the 
initial letters of XPI3T02, except when one limb 
of the X forms the stroke of the P. 

The rule that no one letter in a monogram 
shall be independent, but that each letter shall 


other, makes the 
grams no very 
Much depends 
to be joined in 
as if, in naming 
ors had in mind 
of designers ; 
of providing 
ren with initials 

form part of an- 
design of mono- 
easy pastime, 
upon the letters 
one. It is not 
children, spons- 
the convenience 
they have a way 
their godchild- 
which seem bent upon maintaining entire inde- 

Whether they are absolutely irreconcilable re- 
mains in each case to be proved. One may have 
spent hours in vainly trying to bring them to- 
gether, and all at once they come, as it were, of 
their own accord. As an instance of the likelihood 
of happy combination, I have taken the letters of 
the alphabet and tried what could be done with 
them, three by three, as they came, at a short 
sitting (89). The monograms are by no means 


perfect ; two or three of them do not read in the 
order of the letters in the alphabet ; but that is 
the best I could do right off, and I give the results 
as they came. They come well enough, I think, 



to promise a fair likelihood that letters, take them 
as they come, will be amenable to ingenious 

If they are by no possible means to be reduced 
to a single sign, that may be enough reason for 




interlacing them, or tying them together, or other- 
wise bringing them to the condition of ornament ; 
but the result, beautiful or otherwise, will not be 
a monogram ; and should not be so described. 
It causes only confusion to call things by names 
to which they are not entitled. 

The one case in which there can be a question 
as to the title of monogram is, where the letters, 
though in a sense independent, are continuous 
(86, 93). It is sometimes possible to devise a mono- 
gram in which one letter forms part of another and 
yet the line is continuous, and the contrivance 
adds interest to the design (91, 92, and 100 d) ; 
but any device drawn in one stroke might claim 
etymologically to be a monogram, even though 
one of the component letters could be removed 
and leave the others complete. 

A reversible design, which you may turn upside 
down and it reads the same, is a rare possibility (90). 




Though the letters of which a monogram shall 
be formed are prescribed to the artist, he has 
usually some choice as to the character of the letter 
he will adopt ; and the letters given him determine 
often the character he shall choose. He naturally 
adopts an alphabet which will give him the par- 
ticular letters required in forms amenable to his 

Comparatively simple letter-forms, but not too 
rigidly fixed, are the most serviceable. Letters 
in themselves florid, such as the late German 
capitals, are by no means promising ; they are 
involved enough already, and quite too fanciful to 
be further played with. 

Mr. Barclay, from whose book I have, by the 
permission of Mr. H. Soane, borrowed some beauti- 
ful specimens of design, comes to the conclusion 
that the earlier Gothic letters, in which curved 
lines abound, alone lend themselves to monogram- 
mic use, and that the straight lines of the Roman 




character render it unfit. It is quite true that 
Lombardic capitals, for example, are exceptionally 
amenable, all the more so as their shapes are not 
so definitely fixed as the Roman, and one may 
with less offence take liberty with them ; but, 
though there is something final about the form 
of Roman lettering, and its lines are straight and 
rigid — Holbein himself could not always bend 
it to his purpose (94, 95) — it is by no means 
always unmanageable, and when it does lend 
itself to the combination desired, the resultant 
monogram has a sort of dignity all its own. 
It is a great convenience to have two or more 
forms of a single letter to choose from. The 
rounded form may offer possibilities which the 
angular does not, and vice versa. It is not, 
by the way, always a question of Roman or 
Gothic character, as may be seen in the diagram 
opposite (96). There is scope for choice within the 
range of either Roman or Gothic. 

Absolute symmetry is not essential to satis- 
factory design, but there must be in it a sense 


of balance ; and in pursuit of it the designer is 
tempted, not merely to tamper with the shapes 
of letters, but to place them out of their order. 
It is better that the natural sequence of the letters 
should be at once apparent in the monogram ; but 
in any case it should not be so flagrantly violated 
as to compel one to read them awrong. So also 
with regard to the value of the letters, their relative 
importance should be maintained. In the letters 









E € 









of a single name the initial would naturally domi- 
nate. In the case of initials it might be desirable 
to insist either upon the christian or the surname, 
or to pronounce the two equally, or to relegate to 
insignificance the second of two christian names 
habitually dropped. 

Only for some good reason should the letters 
of a monogram differ widely in size. They need 
not be all of a size, but there should be no appear- 
ance of any difference in scale. This is the more 

important where the part of one letter forms in 
itself another complete letter. The letter P is 
contained, of course, within the B or R, the F 
within the E, but in neither case will the one 
letter do duty for a monogram of the two — if it is 
meant to be read. 

Not only should letters read in their order, but 
they should read from the same point of view : 

A. b. c. 


only in the case of a monogram decorating some- 
thing as likely to be seen from one point of view 
as another, is it excusable to place them at various 
angles of inclination. 

There is an obvious and soon-reached limit to 
the number of letters which can be combined in a 
satisfactory monogram. It is only when you know 
they are there that you can read in the device 
which forms the tailpiece to this chapter the letters 



In order to illustrate in a practical way some of 
the points above ^discussed, I have taken the letters 
of the word THE and made monograms of them 
(97, 98, 99, 100). It will be seen that they lend 
themselves to a variety of combinations, some of 
which read in the order of the word, and others 
do not — though these last were really written in 
the right order. In most the T is made to take 
its due prominence ; occasionally it is a capital 
followed by minuscules. Those of them which 
read in the order TEH are, in so far, unsatisfac- 
tory. In two instances (h 98 and c 100) it is only 
by a slightly fanciful treatment of one of the ter- 
minations of the E that the letters are completely 
made out. The kind of balance observed in k 98 
is a thing to aim at in monogram design. Of the 
minuscule versions (97) A is readable only if we 
accept an H which is out of character ; B is not a 
monogram at all; and c reads E T H. 

Supposing the letters THE stood for the initials 
of a man's name, it would be desirable to give 
importance to the E of the surname, and the H 

might possibly, as 
only the second 
christian name, take 
quite a back place in 
the design. The 
point is that the letters should retain as nearly as 
possible their actual value. 

Another condition which enters into the design 


B. C. 



of a monogram is, the space it has to fill, or, 
failing that, the shape it will give. A given space 
to occupy may put out of the question an other- 
wise possible composition. A given arrangement 
of letters may compel a circular, upright, squat, 
or irregular shape, as the case may be. 

A cartouche or other shape enclosing a mono- 
gram (86, 101) may help to bring the compo- 
sition together ; but is no part of the mono- 
gram. A monogram if well designed should stand 
alone. To fall back upon the frame .for help is, 
in a measure, to confess yourself beaten ; but if 
the frame exists to begin with, then you have a 
right to rely upon its lines ; in fact it is one of the 
conditions to which you have to conform. 

Another confession of weakness is to resort, in 
the design of a monogram as such (and not as an 
ornamental device for some particular decorative 
purpose), to ultra-fantastic treatment of the letter 
forms; and a yet more abject one is the introduc- 
tion of independent ornament. There would be 
less occasion for any such makeshifts, were we 
not possessed by a demon of symmetry. We 



forget that it is not equal- 
sidedness but balance that is 
essential ; and that there is a 
compensating charm in cha- 

This is not to say there may 
not be good reason for devices 
in which for some symbolic or 
other sufficient purpose an em- 
blem is included. The excuse 
is the more sufficient when the symbolism (as 
in the case of the rays in 102, which hold the 
stencil plate together) fulfils some practical 

The component parts of a monogram should be 
coherent, consequent, and quite clearly belonging 
to the letters they unite to represent ; but the 

designer need have no 

compunction in departing 

widely from the normal 

proportion and symmetry 

observable in the separate 

letters. The consideration 

^^ ^5H S w I is now the shapeliness of 

^^^^ B^B J tlie monogram, not of the 

V,^^^ J^Wr ^M m( iividual letters of which 

'$jSr j ^K^^^KM ^ is made up. The letters 

|^_,^^MVI may be of the artist's own 

102. l f d, with back- designing ; he is bound to 

ground device, stencilled, no alphabet; but they 

I2 7 

must be all of one handwriting. The incongruous 
association of Roman and Gothic letters, florid 
and simple, is intolerable in proportion as the 
diverse characters are pronounced. And, except 
in the unusual case of a monogram designed to be 
seen from all sides, the letters should have one 
and the same inclination, upright or slanting. 
Crossed letters seldom come well. 
As to precisely what degree 
1 ■■ MM I of liberty the designer may take 
^^^ ^m M with the alphabet it would be 
'i^k A ^k futile to lay down any law ; to 
'"/•"^ B fl some extent he must be governed 

^^^^ by the circumstances of each 

^r^m ^^ given case ; for the rest he owes 
f f^ ^|| obedience only to his own artistic 
sense. The common case of the 
designer who is more intent on 
disguising the lines of his mono- 
gram with flourishes than com- 
pelling them into the way of 

W T, STENCILLED. r ° 111 

beauty, is hopeless. Elaborately 
ornamental letters raise at once a suspicion as to 
the designer's competence. On the other hand, 
there is in simple, straightforward lettering a 
distinction and character which make amends for 
some lack of obvious grace. 

It is not enough that the letters should be all 
there : it should be possible to decipher them. 
Monograms have been ere now designed (104) 




in every respect admirable, except that one could 
no more be expected to read them than to un- 
riddle one of those unimpeachable conundrums 
devised with the deliberate intention that it shall 
not possibly be guessed. There are occasions 
when the object of a monogram is disguise, when 
the problem is to invent a symbol which shall tell 
nothing to those who have not the key to its 
meaning. In the ordinary way the meaning is 
meant to be unravelled by whosoever cares to give 
it a thought. It should form at first sight a good 
pattern ; on further examination it should be 
readable, and only difficult to read in proportion 
as it is meant to be enigmatical. 






Even if it were within the scope of design to 
make any given letters into a monogram, the only 
possible one would many a time be ugly. In such 
case an artist naturally discards the idea and 
falls back upon a cypher : he may indeed in any 
case prefer that device as the more appropriate to 
his ornamental purpose ; at all events it is never 
the forlorn hope which a monogram may be. 

A cypher differs from a monogram in that it is 
not a contraction, not a separate sign compounded 
of several letters, but a commingling or interlacing 
of signs, each of which is in itself a perfect and 
independent letter, the one as it were planted in 

L.O. K 


front of the other, or, more commonly, entangled 
with it. Letters thus interlocked are commonly 
accepted as monograms ; but, though they pass 
current, they are not coin of the realm. For the 
rest, however, the rules which govern the com- 
position of the cypher are very much the same as 
those to which the monogram is subject. 

Lettering of all kinds lends itself to this device 
of cunning interlacing, but none perhaps so readily 
as cursive, writing, the flowing forms of which 
were so commonly employed by the designers of the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to whom the 
straight line, ever-recurrent in the upright Roman 
letter, was abhorrent. So entirely did they adopt 
this one slanting form of letter, that it is some- 
times imagined that the term cypher applies only 
to letters of the cursive type ; but this is not so. 
It is further fallaciously assumed that a cypher 
must be absolutely symmetrical. There was once 
a generation of artists who apparently determined 





to have symmetry, at no 
matter what price of intri- 
cate convolution ; but the 
essential is not symmetric 
but ornamental form. 
Enough that the lines make 
good pattern. The striving 
after absolute symmetry 
resulted in designs, grace- 
ful indeed, but all very much 
of one pattern, and that 
often arather effeminate one. 
It was the insatiate desire for symmetry which 

led to the practice, at one time almost invariable 

in cyphers in which the flowing line prevails, of 

reversing the letter ; 

though the sloping form 

of the writing was in itself 

a temptation (given the 

ideal of symmetry) to 

avoid the difficulty of 

design by simply turning 

the device over, or turning 

over so much of it as was 

needful to symmetry. 

The result was at times 

rather poverty - stricken 

(107), at times rich but 

obscure beyond elucida- Io8 . K ey-bow with 

tion (105). In reality the reversed cypher. 

k 2 



necessity for reversal was never very great, seeing 
that designers were not hampered by any thought 
of keeping strictly to the letter, but indulged 
quite freely in wreathing lines of ornamental 
scrollwork only in so far part of the lettering that 
they grew out of it. An inventive mind might 


readily by means of such extraneous ornament 
have made good the balance of design, and so 
avoided all occasion for reversing- letters ; but 
the real truth is, that letters sloping all one way 
do not naturally lend themselves to symmetric 

The confusion which comes of overturning 
letters is worse confounded by the fact that 
one letter reversed mav in combination with the 




lines of another letter give a third which is perhaps 
not needed. The letter E in the wrought-iron 
cypher illustrated (109) might be the accidental 
result of inverting the B, or vice versa. 

A difficulty with which the designer has to 
contend is that (say) of three letters, two perhaps 


unite as it were inevitably into a single sign, 
whereas the other refuses obstinately to give up 
its independence. The result is, properly speaking, 
neither a monogram nor a cypher; but something 
between the two, and, by reason of its indeter- 
minateness, not quite satisfactory, though per- 
haps the best possible under the circumstances. 


113- CYPHER, TG. 

For my own part I prefer, as a 
rule, either a monogram or a 
cypher to any compromise between 
the two ; but it is in every case 
the result which justifies the 
method or fails to do so. There 
is this objection to the hybrid 
form of design, that, according as 
it is the monogrammic sign or the 
separate letter which first catches 
your attention, you expect either 
a monogram or a cypher, and are 
likely therefore to be puzzled by 

the combination of the two. 

Except where the idea was to confound us, the 

fault of confusion is difficult to condone. It can 

hardly be said that, where a certain degree of 

mystery is sought, it is not 

permissible to reverse ; but the 

artist who relies upon reversing 

lays himself open to the sus- 
picion that, if the task of 

straightforward design is not 

beyond him, he is disposed to 

shirk it. Occasionally, how- 
ever, a letter is turned over 

to such admirable purpose 

that one is bound to confess 

that the artist adopted this 

treatment for the unanswerable IJ 4- cypher, p g, 

J 37 

reason that it is the best that 
could possibly be done with 
given letters. That is so in 
the case, for instance, of the 
familiar combination of Q H D 
in the monogram of Henri Deux 
and Diane, which, frequently 
as it occurs in work done for 
the king or his mistress, seems 
never to come amiss. It has a 
sloping italics of later date never 

115. CYPHER, G R S. 

dignity which the 

Il6. CYPHER, B E. 

reach ; and 
it is difficult to imagine 
how it could be bettered. 
Again, in the O I C in 
painted tile work of the 
same period (no) it will 
be seen that the beautiful 
severity of the letters, 
their proportion, and the 
simplicity of their compo- 
an air of distinction to a cypher 
which, less perfectly proportioned, might have been 
mean or commonplace. Orna- 
mental devices of this kind are 
so readily resolvable into their 
elements that there is no possi- 
bility of the confusion always 
likely to occur when intricately 
interlacing forms are reversed. 

For a similar reason one has 117. cypher, w s. 



nothing to say against the reversal of a single 
letter, the double C, for example, of Charles VIII., 
and of our own Charles II. If the artist can make 
a satisfactory badge or ornamental device out of 
a letter, he is within his province : the condition 
is that he shall make ornament of it. Even for 
more fanciful reversing, the excuse of ornament 
holds good. As a cypher of the letters J L, the 
device on page 134 (in) is very much like other 
interfacings of the period : as an ornamental 
diaper, it makes most excellent decoration in 

The determination to abstain from turning 
letters over results in a form of severity (112) of 
which lovers of symmetry do not approve. 

Bookbinders made admirable use of the simple 
initial as a repeat, with or without a surmounting 
crown, in binding books for royal patrons such 
as Louis XIII. Before that the crowned F of 
Francois ier figured prominently in the details of 
his chateaux. As for the H of Henri II., it was 
used in such a plain and simple way that one 
almost wonders how it is that it does not look 
bald. It forms, however, perfectly adequate 
decoration, owing to the extremely judicious way 
in which it was everywhere introduced. 

In the fine ceiling of the Salle de Diane, at 
Fontainebleau (171), both the simple H of Henri 
and the monogram Q H D are used in a quite 
masterly way. One is apt to associate the idea of 

Il8. CYPHERS, A M, I H S. A CI. 


monograms and cyphers with something small or 
finikin ; but the breadth and dignity of decoration 
such as that is unsurpassed. 

Enough, however, about reversing; let us return 
to the cypher. The interlacing of separate letters 
does not hinder them from being each of a different 
colour (b 97), by aid of which colour (or in the 

Iig. CYPHER, I H C. 

case of carving it might be texture) letters most 
intricately interwoven may be traced and easily 
identified. By the same means any one letter 
may be emphasised at will. Thanks, therefore, 
to colour, or to texture, the artist is enabled safely 
to venture upon combinations of letters which, 
apart from it, would be inextricably involved. Of 
the Gothic minuscule cyphers on page 136 the 


one (114) would be difficult, the other (113) 
impossible, to read but for such help. An artist, 
however, who really enjoys lettering prefers to do 
without it if he can. 

The occasion for minuscule letters does not very 


often occur in cypher or monogram design ; we 
appear to have made up our minds in favour of 
capitals — though a foreigner does not seem to see 
the objection which we have to beginning his 
signature with a small letter. In the case of letters 
which spell a name, we might well combine the 
initial majuscule with minuscules. 


The protest that a cypher is not a monogram, 
must not be taken to imply any under-valuation 
of the cypher. The designer naturally prefers to 
make a monogram — possibly because it is the more 
difficult thing to do — but the cypher gives him 
opportunities of ornament which that does not ; 
and some of the most beautiful and completely satis- 
factory letter-combinations are not monograms 
but cyphers. The designs of Mr. Montague (115, 
117) are admirable, and that of Harry Rogers 
on the same page (116) is a triumph of ingenuity. 
Think again of the many beautiful interlacings 
of the letters A M, I H S, A O (118, 120) in 
Christian art. The letters I H C on page 140 (119) 
branch out, it will be seen, very freely into foliage 
without which the letters would be complete. As 
a cypher the design is in so far open to reproach ; 
but, as a panel of ornament, to which the meaning 
of the letters adds interest, the treatment fully 
justifies itself. The severer foliation of the A M 
(120) stands still less in need of excuse. 

In forming cyphers of the letters THE (121), 
which it may be interesting to compare with the 
monograms in the last chapter, I have confined 
myself to a Gothic character more or less florid, 
and have adapted the designs uniformly to a given 
space which they are easily made to fill ; but out 
of the six which occurred to me at the time of 
designing, one at least reads TEH, which in a 
monogram of the letters T H E is a distinct fault. 



The tailpiece below is not so much a cypher as 
a symbolic device in which a cypher is included — 
that being of course quite a right thing to do, 
though it is not precisely cypher design. 

It is one thing to design a monogram, it is 
another to design it for a specific place or purpose, 
or to include it in some scheme of decoration. 
Here as elsewhere there are few things the artist, 
for all that may be said to the contrary, dare not 
do with lettering, provided only he is competent, 
and that he cares for lettering. If he loves it, he 
may safely be trusted with it. 






The form of an artist's lettering is seldom entirely 
under his control. In departing from accepted 
shapes he runs the risk of not being read. So long 
as he desires to be read, he is free only within the 
limits of legibility — a quality it is for his readers to 
determine. He must be not only legible, but legible 
to them. Learning itself is therefore no safe shelter 
against misunderstanding. The adoption of an 
obsolete character will be reckoned to a man as at 
the best pedantry, just as the invention of quite 
new forms will be put down to his conceit or affec- 

The wise policy for an artist (not that it is wise 
always to act on policy) is to keep safe hold of some 
time-honoured and familiar form of letter, and to 
deal with it gently, venturing only upon such depar- 
tures from it as in artistic conscience he feels bound 
to make. This applies to all manner of inscriptions 

L.O. L 


whose plain business it is to enlighten us, and that 
without great tax upon our attention. 

Deviation from accepted form, prompted by the 
artistic conscience, maybe in one or more of several 
directions. The designer is open to suggestions 
arising out of his scheme of decoration, out of the 
nature of the inscription, out of the position it is 
to occupy, out of the material in which and the 
implement with which it is to 
be written; and, apart from de- 
liberate decorative purpose, and 
no matter what the general 
character of the lettering he 
may adopt (that may be deter- 
mined for him by architectural 
and other considerations) the 
in rendering it will affect his 
rendering, removing the lettering 
somewhat from the original type, 
and giving it a character more or less of its own. 
We do not want telling whether lettering was 
written with a pen, or painted with a brush ; 
indented with a point in something soft, or cut 
with a chisel out of something hard ; we see at 
once that it was cut in wood, or stone, or metal, 
and whether it was incised or grounded out. The 
inevitable character of its execution is seen even in 
work which is meant to be graphic and no more, 
and it is seen to be so much to the good as art. 







This the artist ornamentally inclined naturally 
develops in the direction of ornament ; and so 
arrives, almost by accident, certainly without any 
very deliberate intention on his part, at something 
like ornamental lettering. When it comes to the 
design of lettering in which plain reading is not 
the first consideration, he is in ornamental duty 
bound to develop it to 
the full. Over-elabora- 
tion is a fault into which 
the ornamentist is prone 
to fall ; but so long as 
he confines himself to the 
evolution of that cha- 
racter which comes of his 
material or of the way 
he is working it, he is 
on tolerably safe ground. 
Out of the conditions i 2 6. copper engraving. 

L 2 

: 4 8 




under which he is working and his own personal 
bias, unstimulated by any fervid desire to be 
original, beautiful and ever fresh variations on the 
alphabet arise. 

The influence which the way of working exercises 
upon design is very plainly seen on page 146, in 
the illustration representing a rude block for print- 
ing on linen an initial D, afterwards presumably 
to be embroidered. The process of its making is 
simple : into a chunk of deal, roughly sawn across 
the grain, strips of flat metal tape are driven. 


www rtpnjo 

awonBrla flirt 




This naturally suggests sweeping lines and forms 
that can easily be bent into shape. Hence the 
type of letter, and hence the character of the 
added decoration. The workman, like his public 
— the thing was made for French peasant use, 
and sold by a peasant in the market-place — 
would very possibly have liked to make the 
sprig of foliage more natural ; but the wire would 
have it so. More, perhaps, from reasons of 
economy than from any promptings of taste or 
preference for severity, he followed its prompt- 


pour esfre cefefore p< 
xxii e Gurnets 5>ejuft< 
esfre bisinduzs mi fy 
cotments en gains 
cm# cefefitcmtdiact 


ings, and, almost in spite of himself, gave it 

The rudeness of the work enables us in this 
instance the better to see how design is influenced 
by the conditions under which work is done. 
But similar influences may be seen at work in the 
letters engraved upon Greek coins, which look 
sometimes (47) almost as if the die-sinker had set 
about elaborating the Greek character, so curiously 
are the letters rounded at the points. Very little 
consideration shows us, however, that he had no 
such fantastic idea. It simply happened in that 
way. There was always a danger, in cutting short 
sharp lines with no matter what implement, of 
overshooting the mark. A safeguard was, first to 
drill holes at the points where the lines met or 
ended, and then engrave the lines from hole to 

r cfmn an emuron te 

tauquef aorbonm 
)tk 6e 0fe6 frometrt 


hole. That is what he did — with the result that 
the drill marks, not being effaced, assert them- 
selves sufficiently to give a quite peculiar character 
to the writing. In the case of the coins of course 
the strokes end in little pearls. A precisely similar 
device is adopted in a Greek inscription on a bronze 
tablet in the museum at Naples, where the engraver 
has evidently begun by boring holes at the points 
where the lines of his letters are to end, omitting, 
however, to do so where, as in the case of the bar 
of an A, the grooved lines already cut were all the 
help he wanted — thus clearly showing the practical 
purpose of the little cells at the ends of the longer 

Penmanship is writ large upon the initials of 
the Gothic scribes and in many of the engraved 
initials founded upon penwork (125). The 




















flourishes of the late German capitals inevitably 
suggest the writing master. Letters of the same 
type engraved on copper (126) have a perceptibly 
different flavour. Again, the flourishes into which 
the Gothic letters painted on majolica and His- 
pano-Moresque pottery go off, are traces no 
longer of the pen but of the brush. You may set out 
to do with the brush what was first done with the 
pen ; but you end in doing it rather differently. 

One feels also that the letters in the sign of 
Don Alfonso (19) owe something of their cha- 
racter to the fact that they are penned in out- 
line and the background filled in solid ; and that 
those in the Flemish and German brasses (127, 129) 
are influenced by the fact that they are grounded 





out. Letters of about the same period cut in 
stone (128) have quite a different look. So also 
the white letter upon a black ground, with its 
background of thin foliage, etc., in certain wood- 
cut initials (151, etc.) is plainly not altogether 
unaffected by the fact that the white parts repre- 
sent the cutting away of the wood. In like manner 
the square-cut characters on the Icelandic match- 
box (130) remind one of the knife with which 
they were cut; and one can see, in the rendering 
of Lombardic capitals in Gothic glass painting 
(51), that they were scratched with a point out 
of a layer of pigment on the glass. The letters 
AUDEO, SPERO (131) have a certain Portu- 
guese look, but the character of fretwork is much 
more emphatically marked in them than that of 
nationality; and the cyphers which form so frequent 
a feature upon old key-bows (107, 108) are, as 
it were, translated into pierced and engraved metal. 
The name on the Italian comb-case (132) tells, not 
only that it belonged to a de Boen, but that it was 
chased on leather. 



In event of an artist not duly observing the 
character proper to material, it has a way of 
retaliating. The inscription, for example, on the 
beautiful French lock opposite (133), is too 
much of a tour-de-force in piercing; the letters 
are over frail for chiselled iron, with the result 
that the inscription is in a lamentably ruinous 
condition. The iron has here its obvious revenge 
upon the designer. 

Character, then, and it may be ornamental 
character, comes of allowing material and the way 
it is worked to have a hand in shaping it ; and 
the ornamentist is not merely safe in following the 
lead thus given to his invention, but foolhardy 
in not following it. Further, his own personality, 
presuming him to have one, will find expression 
in his rendering of no matter what alphabet by no 
matter what method— it will be just as much his 
handwriting as though he had written it with a 
fountain pen upon a sheet of cream-laid note. 
Furthermore, the exigencies of composition will 



suggest innumerable modifications of the letters 
as they appear in the copy-book, and an artist were 
no artist if he did not venture upon them. It would 
be absurd for a designer not to prolong the tail of a 


letter if he wanted it to fill a space, or otherwise 
to assert the rights of art, as explained above in 
reference to handwriting. In the word STEN- 
CILLING (134), the heads of C and G and the 
tails of E and L are lengthened with a view, not 
only to artistic effect, but to the strengthening of 
the stencil plate. 

It is when artistic devices make clearly for 
w r orkmanlikeness, and workmanlike expedients for 
artistic effect, that the design of lettering (as of all 
ornament) proves thoroughly satisfactory. 

There is, however, scope for ornamental letter- 
ing beyond this. The designer is, in strict justice, 
at liberty in many cases deliberately to make his 
letter-shapes ornamental ; though the right is in 
these days of matter-of-fact so grudgingly allowed 
to the artist that it might almost as well be denied 
him. The wider tolerance in this respect in days 
before type-printing led to the devising of delightful 
lettering (123). 

There are two ways of designing ornamental 
lettering. The one is to compel the letters into 
the shape of ornament. This was the idea of the 
Byzantine and other primitive illuminators. But 
as early as the sixth or seventh centuries writers 
began to be diverted from the path of ornament 
pure and simple by the unnatural — or is it only too 
natural ? — delight in torturing the forms of birds, 
beasts, fishes and imaginary monsters into some- 
thing which might do duty for lettering. The 



most beautiful of the interlacing initials in Irish 
and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of the eighth, ninth 
and tenth centuries are not those which break out 
incontinently into heads and legs, in the wild 
endeavour to persuade one that this ingenious 
strapwork is something more than ornament. 
Such effort ends at times in being something less. 
Still, the men were bent upon making the beasts 
or monsters of their imagination into letters. 
The creatures formed the letter and were not 
added to it. 

So it was with early Gothic lettering, and, in 
fact, with all writing until the days of letterpress. 
Not till then did letter forms become fixed. Work- 
ing with his own hand, the man was free, not 
merely to follow his temperament, but to give way 
to his mood, so that in the work of even the 
steadiest-going writer there was a chance always 
of freshness and a possibility of something new. 
And the scribe, being in the habit of dealing freely 
with letter forms, found less difficulty in playing 


ornamental pranks with them, in making, if need 
were, letters which were unmistakably ornamental, 
ornament which was unmistakably lettering. 

With the advent of printing, and the inevitably 
fixed type of the founder, a blight of uniformity 
spread from the printer to the scribe : the ideal of 
freedom declined ; but, so long as the Gothic spirit 
lingered, designers would still at times sport with 
the shape of a letter. What a variety of shapes a 
single letter takes (135) in even printed initials of 
the days when printing was yet young ! 

In the case of handwriting the artist was con- 
trolled only by his own taste, which, until the 
time when late German penmanship went off into 
an hysteria of incoherent flourishes, seldom failed 
him : there is, we may say, no standard type of 
Lombardic lettering ; but, with all its variety of 
proportion and shape, it seldom goes far astray 
from fitness or beauty. This applies to the main 
outline of the letter. Lombardic and Gothic 
capitals generally allowed of very considerable 
variation in the parts of the letter, in the thicken- 
ing of the curved lines, in the curving of the 
relatively straight — all of which made for orna- 
ment. The next step in that direction was to 
play with the lines of contour, to fret the 
outline as it were, and slightly to foliate it, but 
at first only so slightly as barely to interfere 
with it. At junctures, too, where two lines met 
(135), a loop was often substituted for the point 


and this loop developed at times into a very effec- 
tive ornamental feature. It had been, it will be 
remembered, from the time of the Keltic scribes, 
a practice to elaborate the letter by interlacing, 



and some of the most charming letters of the six- 
teenth century depend upon interlacing for their 
ornament (144, 145). 

The slight foliation of the terminations of the 
letters develops finally into free, and it may be 
florid, growth, which, according to its degree and 




kind, may be considered either as part of the 
letter, or as ornament associated with it (62, 136); 
it is often difficult to say which. 

The other way of designing ornamental letters 
might be regarded as a carrying further of the 
idea of foliation ; but it carries it so far that it 
enters a new province. It amounts in the end to 
clothing the letter with ornament, or compelling 
ornament, more or less, into the shape of a letter. 
Even the human figure has been tortured in this 
way (137) ; but it has never yet been made into 
satisfactory lettering, though artists of ability have 
tried their hands at it. 

A singularly beautiful specimen of florid foliated 
lettering is the name-plate of Israel van Meckenen 
(66), to which more detailed reference is made on 
page 99. 

In the initials by Cranach (156) the scrollery 
compelled into letter-form begins to be inco- 
herent ; one feels the want of a simple outline ; 
and yet more so in those of Matthias Gereon 
(168). The simpler A of the Francois ier period 
(133) makes more sober ornament, but has also 


too much the effect of having been put together. 
The ebullition of ornament out of the slender 
lines of the italics in illustration 105 is rather 
sudden, but it is directed by a sense of grace. In 

the letters of the 

word REGINA 
on the Prayer- 
book of Mary 
Tudor (139), the 
ornament is in 
part very ob- 
viously added to 
the letter ; it is 
as if the gold- 
smith had first 
made his letters 
and then belted 
them. Such 
added ornament 
has generally the 
appearance of 
an excrescence ; 
here it is judi- 
ciously employed, and results, for once, in adequate 

The abuse of ornamental lettering is patent to 
every one. Marvels of ugliness have been per- 
petrated in its name. So little is lettering esteemed 
among us nowadays that it is usually left to the 
incompetent hands of draughtsmen, who look upon 
L.O. M 


1 62 

ornament as a convenient means of disguising 
faults of penmanship or draughtsmanship. 

As to the use of ornamental lettering, there is 


plenty of room for divergence of opinion; but, 
admitting that in serious inscription ornament 
may be for the most part out of place, it has its 
place in lettering, and a very useful one. The 
artist's calling is not of such a grave and lofty 


M 2 


nature that he may never descend from the 
heights of academic design and indulge in the 
frivolity of ornament — if so it be considered. The 
potter plays with his brush, the needlewoman with 
her thread; to the worker work becomes play; and 
his playfulness touches, if only because it is a sure 
sign of enjoyment in the work, a sympathetic chord 
in us, and wins our approbation. 



To many the idea of Lettering in Ornament 
will suggest at once the thought of Initial Letters, 
for the most part, though not necessarily, dis- 
tinguished by ornament — their essential peculiarity 
being that they do distinguish themselves, in 
whatever way, from the surrounding text. 

It is in books, manuscript or printed, that 
initials are most useful. There is less occasion for 
them in mural and decorative inscriptions, where 
even distinctive capitals are not always necessary. 
In fact, with the one exception of black-letter, 
inscriptions are happiest all in capitals. The 
minuscule was not adopted for architectural or 
monumental purposes until a period when design 
was fast losing its dignity : it belongs to parch- 
ment and paper ; and with it are associated the 
capital and the initial. 

The ostensible purpose of an initial letter, it is 
a truism to say, is to mark a beginning, the point 
at which the reader is to begin, or to begin anew. 
The term " versal " is only another name for what 
is practically the same thing, the letter, namely, 
to which the officiating priest shall turn. The 

1 66 

decoration of this letter is by way of signal or 

The initial heads the chapter as the capital 
heads the sentence. It is writ large and beautiful 
by way of emphasis, more or less ; and by strict 
rights the letter should be glorified in proportion 
to the importance of its position. Logically, as 
well as artistically speaking, there is no reason 
why several series of initials should not be used, 
with varying emphasis, upon a single page ; but 
it would not seem to the printer worth his while, 
and it would sorely tax the judgment of the 

An initial, however, is not emphatic according 
merely to its size. In common speech a word is 
more effectually emphasised by a pause before its 
utterance than by shouting it. And the notion 
of pause explains and justifies a certain disregard 
of immediate legibility in the initial. There, if 
anywhere, the artist may give loose to his fancy. 
Ornament which elsewhere might be distracting is 
here attractive, literally of use, that is to say, in 
calling attention to the letter (141). A pause 
before the reader begins or resumes his parable is 
not without dramatic effect, and a letter must be 
indeed entangled with ornament if during that 
respite it has not plainly distinguished itself. 

There are occasions, again, where it may be 
taken for granted that the reader expects a 
certain letter, in which case there is no need to 


1 68 

make it easy to read. On the other hand, where 
easy reading is essential, as for example in an 
advertisement, an initial not over-involved in 
ornament may, by its detachment from the text, 
confuse the reader — as in the case of a placard in 
which the word ELECTION caught the eye; it 
turned out to refer to a 5 election of popular songs, 
but the initial S was so far removed from the word 
to which it belonged that the eye was satisfied 
without it. Where (as in this instance) the letters 
following the initial make of themselves a word, it 
is all the more necessary to bring them close up to 
it, that no such error may be possible. 

The illuminator has it all his own way with 
regard to initials (142). He is a sort of free 
lance in the field of caligraphy, not bound to keep 
closely within the ranks which a draughtsman 
subject to the conditions of printing must observe. 
Not in the matter of colour only, but of form also, 
• he has a scope denied to the wood engraver. It 
lies within his discretion to enrich initials with 
ornament, to glorify them with gold and colour, 
to encroach at pleasure upon the written text, 
which he can accommodate to his wildest lines. 
But his discretion is not seldom at fault. His 
very freedom is a temptation, to which, at the 
bidding of his pen (always ready to run away with 
his judgment), he has from first to last been apt to 
yield, giving us, perhaps, beautiful initials which 
are far from resulting in a beautiful page — to the 



making of which there goes a dignity inseparable 
from reticence and self-control. 

The air of wild gesticulation so characteristic of 
a certain class of illuminated initials is enough 
of itself to convict them of extravagance. They 
presume, too, on the mere grounds that they are 
put in by hand, to sprawl over the page as though 
it were theirs. It is all of a piece with the incli- 
nation of the illuminator to look upon the margin 
of a book as a fair field for his exploits. It is not 
to be wondered at if, in the scarcity of parchment 
and paper, the mediaeval artist seized upon the 
margins of the books which came within his 
grasp. His excuse will serve us, however, no 
longer. Let us have initials, by all means, and 
borders too, for that matter, but let them be 


planned to fall within the margin, which is the 
fitting and the necessary frame alike for type and 
manuscript. Encroachment upon the margin is 
less pardonable than ever in print, where it has 
the appearance of being an afterthought — which 
it is not. 



An initial is distinguished from the text by its 
size always, often by its colour. Even where in 
mediaeval books the letter itself is not in all the 
colours of the illuminator's palette, it is commonly 
in vermilion or ultramarine, or set in a filigree of 
ornament in one or other of those colours. 

It was from the first a foregone conclusion that 
initials should be ornamental. In the beginning 
the ornament was in the letter itself, not merely 
associated with it in the form of accompaniment 
or background (143). The scribe designed it 
more or less anew, took liberties with it, modified 
its shape in the direction of ornament, made 
pattern of it, played with it (144, 145), and was 
not content merely to play about it, as became 
eventually the custom of draughtsmen more 
interested in picture than in design. 

Printers' initials hardly ever depended for deco- 
rative interest upon the letter only, however 


ornamentally rendered. It was not enough for 
them that the shape of it was ornamental, 
there must needs be ornament or foliage also, 
interlacing with it, or forming, it might be, a rich 
background to the letter (144, 145). Eventually, 
with the Renaissance, when letter shapes became 
more definitely fixed, ornament was confined 
entirely to the background (146). 

Colour is, of course, the exception in printed 
books. But even in black and white one gets 


as nearly as possible its equivalent by means of 
ornament which, according to its density, tells 
lighter than a solid black letter or darker than a 
letter merely in outline, and gives a patch of com- 
paratively solid print, calculated to call more 
peremptory attention to it than a naked letter 
of the same proportions would do. 

This froth of ornament about a letter may 
be regarded as a sort of danger signal, no 
more to be mistaken than the foam about a rock 
not otherwise clearly distinguishable, A haze 


[fltf C^JjTm 


of ornament, on the other hand, in which the 
letter is lost to view, is in itself a danger. 

Still, in the case of a letter big and heavy 
enough to hold its own, a tint of ornament is 
useful, in softening its lines and mitigating what 
might, but for it, have been a harsh and brutal 
contrast between its blackness and the white 
paper (147). 

It has the further use of doing away with the 
blank unprinted area about it which otherwise 
would tell as a gap in the type ; and may readily 
be designed to give (and naturally is designed to 
give) a compact right-lined device ranging con- 
veniently with the lines of the text. Except where 
the letter itself takes square lines (which it cannot 




always be made to do), something of the kind seems 
to be almost necessary. We get by means of such 
ornamental framing to the initial a rectangular 
patch of print which there is no overlooking ; and 
within this, attention once called to it, the form 
of the letter is promptly perceived. Moreover, 
such uniform patches break the page more 
pleasantly than initials of varying contour would 
be likely to do. 

Upon this customary tune, of a letter involved 
in ornament, or set in a framework or against a 
background of ornament, very interesting varia- 
tions were played throughout the sixteenth 
century. At times such ornament was made to 
follow closely the lines of the letter (150), at 
times to contrast with them (146, 147), at 
times apparently to take little or no account of 
them (164) ; but apparently only ; for the very 
test of an artist's capacity for such design is that 



he takes the letter shape into due consideration, 
and accommodates the design of his ornament to 
it. His idea may be only to fill up the interstices 
with pattern, or to compose contrasting lines, or 
to correct perhaps the inevitable lines of the letter 
itself; but, whatever his idea, he must make that 
the starting point of his design. The devices of 
the ornamentist in the way of pattern subsidiary 
to initial lettering are more in number than it 
would be possible to enumerate. It must suffice 
to mention a few of them. 

The end in viewis, usually, by means of ornament, 
to get a broken background, against which the 
letter is sufficiently relieved, dark on a lighter tint, 
or light upon a darker ; and it is possible, of 
course, by the strength or delicacy of the pattern, 
to give almost any tint to the ground, by its 
monotony or variety to give almost any degree 
of evenness or unevenness of tint. It is a wide 



range from solid black ornament to pattern in 
outline only, from mere diaper to vigorous 
arabesque or foliage, to say nothing of eventual 

A heavy letter against a lighter background of 
ornament was naturally the first to occur to the 
artist (147). But he did not stop there. Letters 
in outline relieve themselves quite enough against 
a more solid scrollwork, as may be seen in a French 
alphabet of which two letters are here repro- 
duced (148), where the niello-like enrichment gives 
importance to otherwise modest initials, even if 
if it does not make them easier to read than they 
would be without it. This is a case, by the 
way (others occur in 147, 149), in which the 
rectangular shape is clearly enough marked without 
aid of enclosing outline. 

The feat of making black letters clear themselves 

i 7 7 


against a black ground is not so simple ; but it is 
satisfactorily accomplished in sundry Greek initials 
printed at Venice (150). The letter-shapes are 
simply emphasised by a double outline of white, 
and the ground patterned with well-fitting orna- 
ment, which not merely reduces it to the value of 
a tint, but, by the way its detail follows the shape 
of the interstices, helps to define the form of the 
letter. In the case of black letters upon a ground 
in theory black, but so closely covered with white 
ornament as to give merely a grey tint, there was 
no difficulty at all in giving force to the black 



1 *\*P?1mi 

3 wJWj/pg 




i 7 8 

An alternative to this, 
which suggested itself 
almost from the first 
to engravers, was to let 
the initial stand out 
white upon the ground of 
black (151), which might 
or might not be reduced, 
by means of white 
pattern on it, to a tint 
(152). This filigree of 
white ornament (143, 
152, 153) served also (like the fine white dots with 
which the black between was often speckled) the 
very practical purpose of disguising any lack of 
solidity in the printed patch of black, very likely 
to occur in printing with hand-presses — vaunt 
them as we may. Moreover, the simplest thing 


for the engraver to do, 
ornament in his wood 
block (154), and he did 
it, to very decorative 
purpose. Such work 
affords perhaps the first 
instance of white-line 
engraving, the inven- 
tion of which is attri- 
buted to Bewick. He, 
no doubt, cultivated it 
further, but the orna- 

r as to cut fine lines of 

153. woodcut. 




mentists were before him in the field, and had 
done good work before he entered it. 

The one uniformly unsatisfactory way of relieving 
a letter against its background is to shade it, whether 
by merely thickening the outline on one side of it, 
or by throwing half of it in shadow, as though it 
stood up upon the page. Theoretically the shading 
makes the letter " stand out " ; but it does not 
make it more easily readable ; it simply vulgarises 
it. It looks as if in the initials D. I. (155) the 
rather clumsy outline, black against a background 
of lines giving a half tint, were meant to suggest 

If it is desirable to reduce the volume of white 
in an initial too assertive on its dark ground, a 
simple expedient is to introduce into it a central 
line of black, as frequently was done (154). 
This may suggest perhaps the idea of incising, but 

N 2 



does not pretend to give the effect of incision. It 
is odd that many an old engraver should have 
hesitated between two such opposite opinions, 
and, in the same series of letters, have rather 
vulgarised some (153) by shading them and 
treated others (152) quite tastefully. 



The initials of the sixteenth century printers, as 
will be seen by the illustrations to this as well 
as to the preceding chapter, are not so much 
designed by the artist as decorated by him. It 
is not the letters which he has invented, but the 
ornament round about them. That may not, 
strictly speaking, be following the traditions of 
the days before ; but men have a right to initiate, 
if they like, a practice of their own ; and these 
men, it must be allowed, founded a tradition 
according to which most excellent work was 
thenceforth done. 

The practice of designing not the initial letter 
but its decoration, certainly meets the condition, 
nowadays more insisted upon than ever, of 


legibility. When little or no liberty is taken with 
accepted letter-forms, there is the less danger (if 
any) of their becoming unreadable. But artists 
have presumed upon this, seeing no reason, where 
it was only the background of the letter which was 
to be designed, why they should not do with it 
precisely as they pleased, and introduce into it 
animals, figures, landscapes or whatever it came 
into a man's head to draw (157, 158, 159). And, 


indeed, it is hard to set a limit to the fancy of the 
artist. Only, when he goes so far as to lose sight 
of the fact that it is a background he is designing, 
he is plainly at fault. 

The best men never quite did this, or they 
would not have been the best. A great designer, 
such as Holbein for example, designed his figures 
to compose with the letter ; but he would have 
been freer without having to consider any such 
arbitrary shape. Who would not rather have that 
artist's " Dance of Death " (161) without any 
such encumbrance as the initials to which the 

I S3 



pictures are adapted. The grim episodes in 
miniature are not the best possible background to 
the letters, and the letters certainly do not help 
the pictures. It would have been in every way 
better to print them as illustrations in the place 
of initials, with perhaps a modest capital following 
— a device not yet, so far as I know, followed by 
the printer. In the case of a Holbein, one accepts 
the graphic illustration, mixed up as it is with 
lettering, as something better worth having than 
merely appropriate ornamental design. The point 
is, that it is not ornamental. In the hands of 
lesser artists it is less and less excusable according 
to their personal insignificance. 

The later and more pictorial the work, the 
more surely the letter becomes a blot upon the 


i8 4 

picture, seen through it always at a disadvantage ; 
but the blame is the artist's, who did not take 
heed of what he had to do — did not really design, 
but only drew. His figures appear to be trying 
to get out of the way of the letter, or the letter 
looks as if it had been planted in front of them. 
For the purely pictorial initial there is no excuse. 
A picture may be more beautiful or more expres- 
sive than any mere letter, and it may answer just 


as well to mark a beginning. In that case, let 
us by all means introduce pictures in the place 
of initials ; it is hard to see the force of dis- 
figuring them by clapping letters in front of 

The relationship between picture and design 
has long been what politicians would call strained ; 
and, as picture emancipates itself from tradition, 
the stress becomes always greater. It is easy to 
imagine lettering that might accompany a picture 
by, let us say, Mantegna, none which would not 
clash with one by Sir Joshua, not to mention 
more recent luminaries in whose light his fame 


161. holbein's " dance of death. 

grows dim. Happily, the modern picture is 
independent of lettering; it has been left to the 
advertiser (who is not easily put to shame) to print 
across it, or on the foreground, or on the sky behind, 
his name and the description of the wares he has 
to sell. Why not ? it may be asked, if Sir E. 
Burne-Jones and the old Assyrians are justified. 
The answer is simple : it all depends upon the 
scheme and treatment of the picture. The letter- 
ing, which is an integral part of the composition, 
adorns a picture ; that which is not, is a blemish 
upon it. The picture must be such that without 
the lettering it would be incomplete. 

The designers even of the sixteenth century 
often hesitate between the graphic and the 


1 86 

decorative motive, and especially between the use 
of arabesque ornament and of figures. They are 
most completely happy with ornament, but they 
are happy also with " putti," as the Italians called 
them, not children precisely, but robust little 
would-be baby forms playing about, and always 
playfully presented. Perhaps it is because they 
are so entirely the children of the artist's brain 


that he is so fond of them. Some of the best of 
these boy figures are attributed to Holbein (160). 
They measure only about two inches across, but 
it would be difficult to find, except perhaps in 
Greek coins of the finest period, larger treatment 
of design in little. 

Another fine alphabet (163) is ascribed to 
Diirer, on what authority I know not, perhaps 
because the letters are evidently the work of a 
strong man not endowed with any very subtle 

i8 7 


appreciation of beauty. It is in the spirit of the 
Italian Renaissance that Godfrey Sykes designed 
an alphabet (167) not precisely of initials : the 
letters are meant to spell inscriptions for the 
decoration of the refreshment room at the Victoria 
and Albert Museum, and were executed in glazed 
majolica — white figures on a yellow ground : the 
modelling of the figures can be better appreciated 
in the larger version of the letter S (166). The 
artist was one who, following in the steps of 
Alfred Stevens, went back for inspiration to a 
source it is the fashion with us to neglect just 
now — by which neglect our modern design is 
greatly the sufferer. 

In the initials of the elder Cranach (156) one 



may trace the influence of the goldsmith. They 
might almost have been designed to be beaten in 
gold. The excess of ornament — the outline of 
the letter is well-nigh lost in arabesque — may be 
taken as indication of the lingering spirit of 
Gothic art, by this time ultra-florid. It is only 
at the beginning of the period that the artists of the 
Renaissance elaborated 
the simple Roman form 
in this way. 

The admirable paint- 
ing alike of ornament 
and figure in certain illu- 
minated initials does not 
make them byanymeans 
types of what initials 
should be. The choir 
books in the Piccolomini 
Library at Siena are 
justly famous for the 
rare beauty of their illu- 
mination. The pictures 
are perfect miniatures ; 
strously big initials (142) quite out of scale with 
the picture, they are miniatures misplaced. The 
art of design is in putting things in their places, 
and giving them their right value. 

The somewhat impractical idea of framing 
pictures within enclosing letters has never yet 
been satisfactorily carried out ; but it appears to 


but, framed in mon- 






fcj» IfiS 


i go 

have haunted the designers of initials. Most 
persistent attempts at picture-frame initials were 
made in 1555 by Mathias Gereon, who designed 
letters and pictures to be framed by them, which, 
as may be seen opposite (168), were interchange- 
able, the same letter D serving as border to two 
separate pictures. The limits of these little picture 
blocks, to be inserted in larger blocks, are plainly 
pronounced by the square lines the pictures take. 
The expedient of designing letters which will 
frame any subject, and subjects which will fit 
any letter, promises economy, no doubt ; but it 
does not fulfil all the conditions of composition : 
the letter has sometimes to be sacrificed to the 
picture. In the case of Gereon's S, for instance, a 
most important section of the initial is eliminated 
to make room for it. In the series of which 
examples are here given the printer, indeed, 
appears to have felt that his initials did not speak 
for themselves, and has introduced accordingly a 
little explanatory letter that there might be no 
mistake about it (168). A more practical, but at 
the same time quite commonplace, device is that 
of American printers, who use sometimes, by way 
of cheap initial, a border or frame of ornament 
within which movable capitals in large type can 
conveniently be adjusted; but this has not even 
the merit of novelty; Plantin was guilty of it 
before them. 

The excessive elaboration of the forms of letters 



indulged in by the men infected with late Gothic 
mannerisms, would more than account for artists 
of severer temper imbued with the spirit of the 
early Renaissance determining not to tamper with 
the Roman character, but to emphasise an initial 
of the accepted and perfected shape merely by 
ornament round about it. That is not to say 
theirs is the best or the only way. The letter must 
arrest attention : it has no other cause or excuse. 
The easiest way of doing that is to dress it in 
ornament, as we distinguish an officer by gold 
lace on his coat, or, if he is very important, by 
cocks' feathers in his hat. But a man accustomed 
to command distinguishes himself by his bearing, 
without regimental finery, and so a finely-designed 
letter with no trimmings dignifies the head of the 
column. Alas, that this so seldom happens now! 
There is, it need hardly be said, no comparison 


between the difficulty of inventing a form which 
shall be at once accepted for the familiar sign and 
have at the same time a character of its own, of 
designing, in fact, a new letter, and of devising 
more or less fitting ornament about an old one. 

169. INITIAL. 



It is only natural to assume that lettering, 
conveying as it necessarily must a meaning, is 
introduced into ornament only on that account. 
The ornamentist, who has experience of its use in 
many an emergency of design, knows better. It 
has happened to him so often to find that lettering 
just met a want in design (lettering which but for 
reasons of composition it would never have 
occurred to him to introduce), that he does not 
for a moment doubt that, difficult as it may be for 
others to believe it, an appreciable amount of the 
lettering in ornament is aaMressed in the first 

L.o. o 

i 94 

place to the artistic sense, and only in the second 
to the understanding. 

It goes almost without saying, that lettering 
introduced for reasons of art must satisfy the 
mind, just as lettering introduced for purposes of 
explanation must at the same time flatter the eye. 
It is the business of the artist, having assured 
himself that lettering is what he wants in his 
design, to find a good excuse for it ; and, with a 
little wit, he may alight on words so absolutely 
to the point, that it never occurs to those who 
have not penetrated the mysteries of the workshop 
to doubt that they were part of his original scheme, 
if not its starting-point. My own opinion, based 
upon personal practice, is, that many a time the 
modest lettering which takes a subsidiary but not 
unimportant place in design was, I will not say 
an afterthought, but a happy thought, which 
occurred to the artist in the course of developing 
his idea ; and that it was suggested quite as much 
by the feeling that it was wanted there for effect 
as by the thought that its meaning would give 
interest to the design. 

And this applies not merely to ornamental 
lettering. The very unlikeness of plain letters to 
the usual forms of ornament makes them exception- 
ally useful in design, as a foil and contrast to it. 
Without obtruding themselves, they give point to 
pattern. It is a common experience in design to 
feel the need of intervals in one's ornament, places 


O 2 


of rest for the eye, too important to be treated as 
background, and in a sense prominent, but not 
calling for much enrichment. The cartouche, 
which plays such a prominent part in wood-carving 
of the period of Henri II., is an outcome of that 
need, affording as it does a broad surface of wood, 
not on the same plane with the ground, but itself 
another ground, and one by its position demanding 
decoration, and even decoration which, though it 
must not attract, shall not be insignificant. The 
design, in fact, leads up to such points in a way 
which would logically almost imply a figure com- 
position or some such enrichment ; but artistically 
that would be too rich ; what is wanted is some- 
thing simple, which will not disturb the breadth 
of surface. Lettering, as may be seen (170, 
171), seems just to fill the place. It may be so 
simple in its lines and so flat in treatment that it 
barely disturbs the breadth of surface ; and yet, 
when attention is attracted to it, as in such a 
position it must eventually be, the sense of fitness 
is not shocked by any inadequacy of detail. In 
the same way the cypher O I C (no) just 
sufficiently fills a space which it is absolutely 
necessary to keep broad, and yet could not well 
be left bare. The fact, of course, that an artist 
could rely upon the vanity of his patron to 
appreciate the introduction of his cypher, did 
not make him the less ready to avail himself of 
the device. 


So with the scroll or label, ostensibly designed 
always to accommodate inscription, and actually 
shaped for its accommodation, we cannot doubt 


that at times the inscription was first thought of 
only as an excuse for the ornamental label : it is 
even (157) used at times without the excuse of let- 
tering. A case in point is the elaborate design of 
H. S. Beham (41). Again, it would probably not 


have occurred to the designer to introduce the 
royal motto in connection with the cypher at the 
end of this chapter (the instinct of the designer is 
to make his cypher self-sufficient) had he not felt 
the need of the lines of the scroll to help him in the 
emergency of combining rather awkward letters. 

If, on the one hand, it can seldom be asserted 
positively that lettering is introduced for orna- 
ment's sake, neither, on the other, can we always 
be sure that the most absolutely appropriate 
lettering was introduced solely or primarily on 
account of what it tells us. It is just as likely 
that the letters on the old English encaustic tiles 
(172) w r ere thought of as appropriate filling for 
the spaces in the band, as that the band was 




devised to take them. The mottoes in the 
stained glass window illustrated (8) may very well 
have been thought of only as a kind of quarry- 
pattern. It is more likely that letters were hunted 
up to fill the shields in the Gothic stall-ends from 
a Somersetshire church (173, 174) than that 
the shields were devices provided for given letters. 
One or two shields perhaps were wanted to bear 
certain emblems ; that suggested other shields, for 
which symbolic filling had to be found. Even in 
the case of an inscription, such as that on the 
background of the embroidered stole (n), it is 
quite within possibility that it arose, more out of 
the idea of breaking the monotonous surface of the 
gold, than out of a desire to impart information. 


The problem offered to the artist is, in the one 
case, to find words so appropriate, and, in the 
other, to reduce them so absolutely to ornament, 
that we neither know nor ask how the design 
came about, but are content that he has solved 
the problem, and, in so doing, given us a thing of 

It can hardly be said that the use of lettering 
in ornament, whether in the form of plain inscrip- 
tion, or of pattern built upon the alphabet, is 
sufficiently appreciated by modern designers. 

Lettering recommends itself to the designer in 
that, when it comes to design and not mere 
inscription, he can do with it so nearly as he will. 
By nature it asserts itself somewhat ; its lines, 
whatever the character, are inclined to distinguish 
themselves plainly enough from foliage or scroll- 
work, from animal or human form, with which 
they may be associated. But there are number- 
less ways of keeping it in its place, indeed in the 
precise subordination the artist may desire — ways 
of distributing the lettering, of shaping its outline, 
of treating its surface, of entangling it with orna- 
ment — any one or more of which may safely be 

Allusion has been made already to the breaking 
up of words capriciously, and to colouring the 
letters at will (67). They may be made to alter- 
nate with ornament, as in the Hispano-Moresque 
plate opposite (175), a very usual plan; or it 


may be not words but cyphers in themselves 
none too intelligible, which alternate with symbolic 
ornament. That occurs in the collar of the Saint 


Esprit worked into the embroidered cloth of which 
a portion is here given (176). The design of the 
collar is adapted also to the border of the cloth, 
where the larger scale of the design makes it more 
easy to appreciate how ingeniously the artist has 


combined his steady and even rigid cyphers with 
the dancing flames which figure again in the diaper 
on the field of the cloth. Similar use is made of 
the cypher in a delightfully simple piece of actual 
goldsmith's work in the Louvre, in which alternate 
links are formed of a cypher D E. The distribution 
of the separate letters of a word according to the 
artist's fancy is another cunning way of sufficiently 
removing it from bald announcement. There is 
no possible mistaking the meaning of the letters 
studding at precise intervals the velvet binding of 
Queen Mary's Prayer-book (139) ; and yet the 
word " Regina " does not shout at you. 

Even straightforward lettering, following the 
plan, for example, of a Greek fret in the French 
encaustic tile (177), and making with the sudden 
patch in the centre most excellent ornament, would 
never thrust its meaning upon one, even were it 
upon examination readable, which, in this par- 
ticular instance, it can hardly claim to be ; nor yet 
the inscription upon the English tile pattern (14). 
If it was the intention of the artist to announce 
something in his design, the tidings reach but few ; 
if it was ornament he meant, there is no mistake 
about that. 

The disguise of lettering in the form of mono- 
grams and cyphers has been alluded to already. 
One looks upon the cyphers tooled upon le Gascon's 
book cover (111) less as lettering than as diaper. 
Even the crowned L sprinkled over the bindings 


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iHtlfV'V 1 'iUi'.Vniiit'm 
il <*.».*.» V/tyi < iY»'t »■ nVt'i i 

■ T? - 

iVlVt >> Viii'ii 

Yr'i'i I't'M'tjVt'i I »YY SH >/•'.' ' *••' ; ' f -''- 

'( l \ , M II SI lit I »'»'» Y ( ^ > '*.♦>,* '/J 

♦"> Y »"-. u tVt'Ht ftin »'.» i"m> > i rYfWfYY-t r r.t.f/ ;.*.' i 
f t n't mi') u 1 i'ViYm *' * ' ' >.*.? ff'luVtfil iyi »Y> H t 
rOtfYj »'lV''< ' » V * V-Y V<> » /'; 'YlYlY V \ i ■ .♦ * * s 




for Louis XIII. asserts itself less emphatically 
than it would if it occurred singly, and were not 
used as an ornamental repeat. 

The form of lettering can, it is evident, be easily 
modified to the degree at which it is quite unin- 


telligible ; the main difficulty of the designer is in 
making ornamental letters which shall not be 
enigmatical. The foliation of the letter-shape is 
itself enough to transform it absolutely. But 
departure from the normal shape should be in the 
direction of beauty. That is hardly the case in 
the letter which grows out into truncated 



branches in the words "Jesus" and "Maria" 
(178, 179), a rustic notion which crops up con- 
tinually in late German Gothic, but it is never 

It is seldom very desirable to break the surface of 
lettering with enrichment, unless indeed the idea 
is to merge it in ornament, to devise a mystery of 
richest scrollery out of which, as you dwell upon 
it, the words grow gradually into significance. 
Van Meckenen did that perfectly in the scroll- 
work which (66), as at last it dawns upon you, 
spells his name. He designed also some very 
elaborate initials (141), in which both the 
thickness of the letters and the background 



enclosed by them is overrun with florid foliage, 
growing in some cases through from letter to 
background ; but so compact is the ornament, so 
closely does it accommodate itself to the spaces of 
one or the other, that, though there is only a 
narrow line of demarcation between the two, the 
shape of the letters is quite clearly enough 
defined. They are a 
triumph of florid orna- 
mental design. 

Another case in which 
the surface of lettering 
is more or less orna- 
mentally treated occurs 
in ribbon letters, and 
in black letter designed 
somewhat after the 
fashion of strapwork, 
turning over at the ends. 
The more simply this is 
rendered, the better as a rule it is, but the turn- 
over is not always so conscientiously designed as 
it might be. Something of the kind occurs also 
in Icelandic lettering (71) ; but the rendering of 
the turnover is there more abstract. An equally 
abstract and singularly happy treatment occurs 
in the Arab rendering of Gothic letters (44). 
In the jewel by Holbein (15), what would in 
the case of solid gold letters have been obtrusive- 
ness, is skilfully avoided by fretting out great part 




cf the body of the letters, not representing them 
in outline, but leaving just enough of the metal to 
give shapes not immediately suggestive of letters. 

In the gold couching on page 206, the A and O 
are cunningly interwoven with the cross. A 


severer use of monogram and cypher, in a way 
which yet does not call undue attention to them, 
is shown in the painting upon the roof of Sell 
church (181). 

A monogram from another old Norfolk church 
(182) shows how the form may be quieted by the 


way it is executed. The ground of the building 
stone is cut away and broken flints are inlaid. But 
though the cement jointing makes a sort of outline 


between the black and the white, it is not con- 
tinuous; and where there is no background of 
flint it is left to the eye to make it good. 

The confusion of lettering with a background 
l.o. p 


of ornament is easily effected. It is curious how 
absolutely the crowned letters are kept quiet by 
the strapwork and floral emblems associated 
with them in the carving of the pear-tree casket 
illustrated (183). So, too, in the sampler of 
outwork (184) the letters lose themselves in the 
geometric pattern-stitching in which they are set ; 
and yet, notwithstanding the square lines of both, 
the natural result of drawing the threads, how 
plainly they detach themselves from it when you 
look at the work ! 

It is a common Oriental practice, as in the 
mirror-back illustrated (74), to involve letters 
in ornament which, by its comparatively equal 
weight, prevents them from asserting themselves, 
whilst at the same time its broken outline and 
modelled surface prevent confusion with the 
sweeping lines and flat face of the inscription. 
In like manner the ornament behind the texts in 
the plaster-work of the Alhambra is fretted all 
over with pattern so that it may not compete 
on equal terms with it. Elsewhere, as in old 
Damascus tiles, colour fulfils much the same 
function as carving. White letters are prevented 
from standing out stark on a rich blue ground by 
patterning it over with ornament in paler blue. 
Much the same thing is seen in sixteenth century 
initial letters (152, 153, 154), where the white 
pattern on the ground, according to its strength 
and weight, just greys the ground, or helps, if need 


be, to restore the balance of the composition. It 
will be seen (185) that the hard effect of flat, 
sharp-cut letters may be greatly softened by a 
mere filigree of fine, close, evenly distributed 
ornament upon the ground, which by its very 
busy-ness dazzles the sight and so seems to 
blur their outlines. 

Countless other ways of bringing lettering into 
focus in design will suggest themselves to the 
artist. It would be impossible to enumerate them 
all ; and there is no need to do so ; for they are 
devices not in the least degree peculiar to 
lettering, but in general use among artists for the 
purpose of subordinating one feature in ornament 
to another. Indeed, very much of what is here 
said applies, not exclusively to lettering in orna- 
ment, but to the ornamental treatment of all 
manner of arbitrary forms. It is one of the 
difficulties besetting the discussion of any side 
issue of ornament, that it is practically impossible 
to refrain from wandering continually off into the 
broader question of design, taste, art in short — 
so true it is that art is one. In theory. In prac- 
tice the arts are many ; and what is called general 
training in art is at most bare preparation for the 
pursuit of the least among them. 

Hence the occasion, or at all events the excuse, 
for books dealing in detail, as this does, with quite 
a subsidiary branch of ornamental design. They 
will not teach the artist his trade, nor save him 

ii in =n 

"i *" "' c 

m *»* "» *** "' «" »" »»» c 


the labour of design ; but they may at least 
prevent his going far astray ; and even the 
theories he is least prepared to accept may start 
him on some not unprofitable train of thought 
upon which, but for timely provocation, it would 
never have occurred to him to embark. 

It is in that hope that the present book is 
written ; not with any desire to impose the con- 
victions of the writer upon others, but with the 
belief that the plain statement of what may be 
no more than the personal opinions of a worker 
of many years' experience will be helpful to 




Accommodating lettering 

to labels 82 

Added ornament . . . . 161 

Albi 78 

Animals 156, 182 

Arab lettering .. 101, 102, 104 

Balance .. ..120,126,212 

Bands of inscription 58, 60, 

87, 198 

Beham (Hans Sebald) 86, 197 

Birds 156 

Black on black . . 176, 177 

Black letter . . 51, 53, 54, 68, 


Blois 94 

Bookbindings 138 

Books 21 

Borders 68 

Brass 51 

Brasses 55, 80 

Breaking up inscriptions 86 
Broken background . . 175 

Bruges 42 

Brush 152 

Burne-Jones 9 

Caligraphy 30, 31, 32, 168 
Capitals 54 


Carpet 86, 88 

Cartouche . . . . 125, 196 

Chinese character . . 106 

Circular discs . . . . 70 

Coins . . . . 71, 72, 80, 150 

Colouring (variety of) . . 92, 

96, 140, 168 

Combination of letters . . 124 

,, of types . . 62 

Confusion . . 136, 137, 209, 


Conjoined letters 107 etseq. 

Construction 38 

Contractions 107 

Covers 26 

Craft (its influence on 
design) . . . . in, 112, 146 

Cranach 187 

Crown (Visigothic). . .. 98 
Cufic character . . 103, 106 
Cuneiform lettering . . 54 
Cursive writing . . . . 130 

Cut letters 50 

Cyphers . . 94, 99, 129 et seq., 
196, 202, 208 

Dark on light . . . . 52 

Decorative lettering. . 57 

et seq. 



Decorative value of let- 
tering i, 6, 7, 8 

Die-sunk letters . . . . 150 

Directness 38 

Distribution .. 20,21,23, 

3i. 44 

Doors 68 

Double column . . . . 24 
outline . . . . i77 

Drapery 58, 65 

Durer 38, 186 

Embroidery 80, 96, 201, 208 
Exactness 39 

Feliciano 38 

Figures 160, 182 

Finish 39 

Flourishes 42 

Foliated letters . . 158, 160 
Framing pictures with 

lettering 188, 190 

Fretwork 153 

Gereon (Mathias) . . . . 190 

Germans 86, 96 

Godfrey (Master) . . . . 60 

Gothic characters 42, 52, 

104, 119, 142, 157 

Greek 54, 150 

Greeks . . . . 71, 72, 74 

Grounding-out 50, 51, 54, 

152, 153 

GUBBIO PLAQUES . . . . 82 

Hidden meanings 90 et seq. 

Holbein .. ..120,182,186 

Horizontal bands. . .. 76 

line .. 57, 65 


Illegibility 98 

Illuminators .. 156, 168,169 
Independent ornament 125 
Influence of technique 

on lettering 49 

Initials 79, 94, 157, 165 et seq. 
,, (ornamental) .. 171 
et seq. 
(pictorial) 181 el seq. 
Inscriptions (monumen- 
tal) 40^/ seq. 

Interlacing .. 94,95,116, 

118, 129, 137, 159 

Italics . . . . 89, 137, 161 

Knife-cut lettej 


Labels .. . . 75 el seq., 197 
Larisch (Herr von) . . 36 

Leather 153 

Legibility 18, 19, 28, 41, 82, 
90, no, 127, 145, 168, 182 

Lf. Gascon 202 

Le Puy . . 34, 54, 60, 108 
Lettering plus picture 9, 10, 
58, Co 
Liberties.. 92, 96, 108, 171 
Light on dark. . .. 52,178 
lombardic capitals . . 120, 

153. 158 

London (Victoria and Al- 
bert Museum) 62, 86, 87, 99 

Manuscript . . 29, 96, 157 
Margins . . . . 23, 24, 170 

Mastic 51 

Material (its influence on 

design) in, 112, 146 et seq. 
Meckenen . . 95, 160, 205 



Medallions Si 

Medals .. ..71,72,73,80 

Metal 153 

Millet (J. F.) 2 

Minuscules .. 140, 141, 165 
Mock lettering . . 2, 66, 68 
Modelled letters . . 50 

Modesty 6, 11 

Modification of letter- 
shapes . . 32, 36, 145, 155, 

Monograms ..94,114^5^7., 

Monumental inscrip- 
tions 40 et seq. 

Morris YVm 8, 19 

Mystery .. .. 91,99,136 

Naples 151 

Xeskhi character.. 103, 106 
newspaper headings . . 26 

Nimbus 65 

Nineveh 58 

Oriental lettering . . 101 

Originality 12 

Ornamental initials . . 171 

et seq. 

Ornamental lettering 49, 

50, 145 et seq. 

Outline 52 

Paccioli 38 

Page (The) 1, 18 et seq., 29 et 
seq., 168 

Paragraphs 22 

Paris (Cluny Museum . . 96 

Pen 152 

Penmanship 30, 31, 151, 158 


Penmanship versus print- 

IN ' G 33-34 

Pictorial initials. .181 et seq. 
Picture and design .. 184 

Piercing 154 

Planning 1 

Pottery 66, 152 

Printed book 1,2 

Printers' initials . . 172 
Proportion 38 

Repeated ornament let- 
ters in) 79 

Reversible designs . . 11S, 

131. 133. i35 
Ribbon letters . . . . 49 

Ribbons 75 et seq. 

Roman characters 42, 52, 

54, 104, 119, 120, 130, 188, 


Scribe 29, 30, 


1. 157. 159, 


Scrolls . . 62 

75 et seq., 81, 

82, 197 


. . . . 94 


. . . . 81 

Setting out 



46, 47. 48 


40, 41, -12 


.. ..179 


. . . iSS 

Single letters 

• 73- 94 



35' 36, 74 

Spacing . . 34, 


41. 42, 52 

Spontaneity . . 

• 33, 39 

Stained glass. . 

. .. 76 

Stevens Alfred 

. ..187 

Stevenson R. L.i 

• •• 3. 4 




Stone 51, 153 Toledo 

Sunken letters . . 52, 54 Tombstones 
Surface breaking.. 6,8,63, Treatment 

199 Turnover 
Sykes (Godfrey) .. .. 187 Type .. 1, 
Symbolism 13, 14, 126, 144 
Symmetry. . 120, 121, 125, 130, 


Tablets 44 

Tapestry 62, 78 

Texture 140 

Tint of ornament. .172, 173, 

Title page 25 Wood 



. . . . 70 

• • 55 

15. IJ 7. 125 

•• 49.52 

112, 113, 158 

Variety 35-37 

Vases 66 

Versal 165 

Vertical lines . . . . 63 

VlSIGOTHIC CROWN . . . . 98 

51. 153 




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